Google Assistant has fundamentally changed the way we all live our lives. From a convenience standpoint, intelligence and learning, and even a social aspect play a role in how it’s shaped and shifted the landscape of how we interact with technology and one another.
Ever since the global COVID-19 pandemic struck, I’ve noticed something strange, but it never really weighed on me as much as it is today, so I thought I would discuss it. Google Assistant is getting objectively worse and less reliable.
I’m sure I won’t be alone in feeling this way – how many hundreds of times have you asked your Nest Hub, Nest Mini, your phone, TV, or any other Assistant-enabled device a question or to perform a task only to get a response that either had nothing to do with what you asked or completely missed the mark in some other way? This is simply one example, and I’m certain that if you chime in down in the comments, the truth and the extent to which it misses the mark will quickly become apparent.
The promise of Google Assistant
After calibrating the voice training, speaking very clearly, and even being close enough to the device, I can’t count how often I tell the Assistant to turn on a light in a room and it says “Alright, playing this album on your living room TV”. Sending feedback is supposed to help, but the point is that things have just gone downhill.
Assistant was supposed to be this revolutionary tool, and if I’m honest, it seems kind of dumb. To be completely fair, it’s still responsible for making my life a whole lot easier. The flip side of that coin though is that with many of us no longer traveling and instead, staying home instead of going into the office to work, and just experiencing the world a little less from the confines of our apartment or house, the promise of Assistant seems a lot less fulfilled.
The unforeseen game changer
I’m not sure Google Assistant’s DNA was built around such a societal event, and it shows, in my opinion. Yes, it’s good at making the smart home easier to manage, but for many people, that’s all it’s become. It was created to do so much more than that though. This whole thing could simply be that I’m an isolated case and others are out and about using Assistant for every little thing, but I’m sure I’ll find that others live a similar lifestyle.
What I’m saying is that I use voice commands almost zero percent of the time when I could or even should be both because it’s less reliable than it promised to be and because I would rather just not be bothered by some of the interactive elements when I could instead click a web link. While Google has mitigated some of the pandemic problems by adding home-bound features, I feel deep down in my bones that we as a society are getting a bit tired of interacting with it.
Are we desensitized or is this just getting old?
Either I’m oversaturated due to being in the tech field (just flat-out wrong), or we’re all a bit too overwhelmed with smart devices these days, and are sick and tired of a half-baked Assistant doing everything for us improperly. I’m at the point where just doing everything myself feels less cumbersome and I get the result I want. As a millennial, it’s funny to hear myself say that I would rather go and flick the light switch, Google search something manually, or real print joke book for some entertainment.
Besides not adding any good jokes to its lineup in like, forever, Google Assistant needs to be better if it wants to be the next-generation assistant. When I see tools like ChatGPT pop up and take over the space, I think about how Google’s product – which was once the revolutionary option – is now dangerously close to being outdated or novel.
Google Assistant needs a context-aware upgrade
My hope and my fear is that the company beefs up Assistant with user feedback instead of it seemingly going into a black hole when sent, and takes its LaMDA AI and injects it into the name brand to give it new life. Imagine Assistant getting an upgrade where it’s a whole lot smarter, yes, but also has more human-like common sense. As it stands, Google Assistant isn’t dumb by any means, but it sure is more ignorant of real human interaction and context than I expected when I was first amazed by its existence and capabilities. Is it just me, or is it just getting worse? Perhaps it’s not, and we’re just seeing the holes in the magic because we’re interacting with it at home more and are less in awe of its tricks – who knows.
Most of us have heard the phrase, “Image is everything.” But when it comes to taking AI to the next level, it’s context that is everything. Contextual awareness embodies all the subtle nuances of human learning. It is the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘when’, and ‘why’ that inform human decisions and behavior.Towardsdatascience.com
Anyway, if it needs to continue to rely on humans to give it that context every step of the way, it will never meet or keep up with the demands we have for it in a forward-thinking society driven by computing. Yes, Assistant does string together context based on IF/THEN statements and can even follow up with a response based on the previous data, but it’s a far cry from doing so at the same level as humans. Is Google riding its own coattails and the success it’s built with Assistant by being lazy with improvements until it drops the mic with a LaMDA upgrade? I wouldn’t dream of calling data scientists and some of the smartest AI specialists in the world lazy, but something just feels off here.
You may have noticed above that I said the day it can do this is also a fear of mine. That’s because I know that the implications of the very thing I’m asking for are that AI either becomes sentient, or damn close to it. Perhaps we’re speeding toward our own destruction by desiring the very things that will be our downfall. Perhaps progression in AI will continue despite our fears because, deep down, we want it not to replace us, but to stand alongside us as equals. Anything less feels inadequate, I think, and that’s terrifying and beautiful all at once.
At the end of the day, I just feel that our progress with Assistant has stalled on a macro scale, and these are the incoherent ramblings of my mind. Take them with a pinch of salt, but chime in below if you share my frustrations.