Are you ready for Google assistant? Well, it’s not a device you can buy or an app you can purchase. Rather, it’s a platform unveiled today by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, a name given to putting Google’s smarts into anything. As Google puts it, the “next evolution” of Google Search. And yes, it’s Google assistant — lower-case “assistant” — not Google Assistant.
“It’s not enough to give them links. We really need to help them get things done in the real world. This is why we’re evolving search to be more assistive,” Pichai said when speaking about Google assistant during the opening keynote of Google I/O, Google’s big annual developers’ conference held today.
For comparison, you can think of Google assistant the way Amazon has an Alexa assistant in the Echo, but the Echo itself isn’t Alexa. Similarly, Microsoft builds its Cortana assistant into Windows devices and will be bringing it to Xbox.
The move still doesn’t give Google’s assistant a catchy name like Apple Siri or the aforementioned Alexa and Cortana assistants. Heck, Google isn’t even branding the product as Google Assistant — upper-case on the Assistant. Rather, it’s “Google assistant,” with the emphasis remaining on Google itself.
There’s a potential concern that Google is missing a chance to create an actual assistant with personality, which some people like. It’s certainly confusing with the whole lack of upper-case situation, which I think will likely change.
We’ll see. What’s clear is that people will be hearing a lot more about how all types of things have”Google assistant” in them.
For example, the newly announced Google Home voice-activated home assistant was described as having Google assistant built in. Similarly, the new Allo messaging app was said to have Google assistant smarts, helping you automatically respond to messages or to converse with Google itself to get things done.
In one example, Pichai demonstrated a conversation where he asked Google about movies nearby, said he wanted them to be kid-friendly, got a prompt if he wanted to buy tickets and then had that transaction done. A similar demo happened for booking a restaurant within the Allo app:
This will be familiar to those who’ve been watching the tech news recently and hearing so much about “bots.” Basically, Google assistant is also Google’s bot platform — but Google never used the word “bot” that I noted.
I suspect Google’s avoiding that because many of the bot efforts out there will likely fail, as the promise of some machine learning to accomplish some tasks proves more difficult than possible. There will be successes, of course. But by avoiding the bot name, Google potentially avoids being seen as going down a wrong path even as it walks the same.
So what is Google assistant, in the end? Google assistant combines two things: Google’s expertise in extracting information from content across the web and from partners plus its machine learning smarts to understand what people are asking.
Put another way, Google search has been largely a way that people typed queries in a one-way conversation to get information that they themselves used to complete tasks. Google assistant is going beyond that, to a two-way conversation, one that aims to fulfill tasks as well.
For more, see our live blog today, Google’s blog post that also introduces Google assistant to the world and especially, a long interview by Miguel Helft of Forbes with Sundar Pichai that goes in depth about Google assistant.
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