After years of a less than enthusiastic experience with Siri, I had momentarily given up on voice recognition technology. Sure, I had followed Alexa and Google Home a bit but I was not ready to take the plunge. Then this Christmas, in the guise of my daughter, Santa brought me a Google Home device. This was exciting! I had become more used to giving toys than getting toys, unless I had gifted them to myself. Santa sure knew me well, when he brought OK-Google. And I have to say, we’ve all been having a great time with her.
After a few simple questions like, “Hey Google, what’s the weather like?” and “Who was Abraham Lincoln?”, we decided to get to the heart of matter.
“OK Google, are you smarter than Siri?”
Cleverly, she responded that they are very different. It would be like comparing apples to oranges. “Siri was created by Apple and… (pause)… I like oranges.”
The truth is that OK-Google is smarter than Siri, at least for my purposes. First, I love that OK-Google uses her voice to tell me what she finds instead of having me read it myself, like Siri. This is a core requirement for it to be usable for me. But the reason she seems more like a smart-being is that she is able to have a small conversation. Unlike Siri, she remembers things and can refer back to something said previously.
I say, “OK-Google, play Chopin music” and she plays the music. “OK-Google, next”, and she plays the next song in the play list. “What song is this?” results in the name of the song without using Shazam or the rusty files in my brain.
My wife asks, “OK-Google, can you find me a recipe for Harira soup?”
“I found a recipe for Harira soup. Would you like me to read the ingredients or the recipe?”
“The ingredients, please.” Yes, my wife is very polite with automated devices that have humanistic characteristics, more so than I am. I just get to the point and make a demand. I hope I’m not offending her.
As she reads an ingredient and the amount, she asks if she should pause. My wife says yes, then asks her to continue, and miraculously, she does.
“Hey Google!” I call across the room. I half expect her to say I don’t need to speak so loudly. Generally, she can pick up my commands at a whisper, but it seems natural for me to shout across the room.
“Remember my cat’s name is Olive.” She acknowledges she will.
“Hey Google, what’s the name of my cat?”
“Olive,” she confirms, and I am impressed.
OK, she’s far from perfect, but she is pretty damn functional. She finds information for us very easily and reads it aloud. She plays music, even for my mother-in-law with shakey English pronunciation. She can distinguish my voice from my wife’s and put meetings on our correct calendars with a simple voice command. She can startup up Chromecast and play a Netflix movie on our TV. We still need the remote, but she gets things started while we look for it in between seat cushions, on shelves and under tables.
Some quick improvements Google could make:
- Allow us to give her a name and customize how we call her. Using “OK Google or Hey Google” all the time gets a bit tiring.
- Let us define when she turns off and how long she stays on when talking, so we don’t have to use “OK-Google” after every request or statement.
- Let us request a poem or song lyrics that she reads back to us.
So far, I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities of Google Home and the future of voice response systems and conversational computing. Until the day the robots take over the world, they will definitely make life a little more fun.