Internet of Things

Google Parent Alphabet Advances AI Endeavor

As developers wait with bated breath to get their hands on Google Assistant’s API, we look at it and other AI assistants’ recent past — and whether or not Alphabet’s latest endeavors are anything to get all worked up about.

First, there was Apple’s Siri in 2011. Next came Microsoft’s Cortana in April 2014. Then came Amazon’s Alexa in November of the same year.

Most recently, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is working to advance its AI personal assistant game with the aptly named Google Assistant.

Well, they’ve been working on it for awhile. Rumors swirled about Google Assistant way back in March of this year, and Google officially announced they were working on a personal assistant back in May.

Google’s release of messaging service Allo back in September gave a preview of the Google Assistant technology to consumers. Though marketers were excited and it was considered by many to be a step up from Cortana and Siri, Allo was given a lukewarm reception at best and decried at worst (Snowden wasn’t a big fan, for example).

Google Assistant was also integrated into Pixel, launched in late October of this year. And just last week, Alphabet released Google Home its answer to Amazon’s Echo — which also features Google Assistant. Now, eager techies have a new date to look forward to: December 2016. That’s when developers will be able to create customized actions for Google Assistant.

Alphabet is giving developers the opportunity to develop both direct and conversation actions for Google Assistant. This will allow for anything from simple searches and home automation to back-and-forth conversational exchanges between consumers and developers.

Developers will also be able to use an SDK to embed Google Assistant into any number of devices ranging in size from small personal use (Google cites Raspberry Pi in this category) to mass-market consumer products.

The broad availability of the Google Assistant API will put it even further ahead of Siri and Cortana. It will allow Alphabet to compete directly with the likes of Alexa and her 1,400-plus skills.

It will be interesting to see how Google Assistant develops and how it is received. Consumers are generally mixed as far as how useful voice-activated assistants can actually be. Most people don’t really use Siri or Cortana for much anymore, for example.

Amazon’s Echo could still easily prove to be more a novelty than a long-lasting commerce addition to the IoT, although this is unlikely, given how well Alexa taps into consumer trends online. It’s doubtful Echo will turn into a voice-activated portable stereo and weather forecaster given everything else Alexa can do. Amazon is real competition. So to compete with them in the commerce space, Google Assistant’s developers will have to focus on how to win over consumers whose habits were largely formed by a retail giant.

It really comes down to whether or not Google understands how most consumers shop online. But given their lengthy history as a search engine, they probably have at least some idea.

Alphabet does have some things going for it that its competitors don’t: Its strengths lie in its many machine-learning endeavors and advanced language recognition — for speech, text and translation of both. If the hype is to be believed, the ability to hold a conversation with the Google Assistant in a natural way could aid in its popularity.

AI assistants as a whole still aren’t particularly smart, and their usefulness to consumers varies widely depending on the specific task. If Alphabet can facilitate high-quality, naturalistic communication between human and machine, then they just might win this round.

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