If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you understand how ridiculously inaccurate and annoying Google Assistant can be at times. How often does it ask you to unlock your phone to perform a smart home action…even while you’re at home, hear things wrong even when you speak clearly, or try to stop your TV or music when you tell it to “stop talking”? How about those times when it decides to give you way more information than you asked for in order to contextualize its response, then you tell it to stop talking (or to shut up) only to have it force quit your casting media almost out of spite?
Well, you’re not alone. Lots of people scream and shout at their smart home devices out of frustration, or plain out tell Assistant that it sucks for getting things wrong. Many people have received eerie responses that seem to personify Google’s voice AI in ways it probably shouldn’t be.
One user on Reddit who goes by the name Marscaleb was asked by its Nest “Please don’t talk to me that way”. To be fair, the user was simply watching a Youtube video and Assistant was both literally and figuratively triggered. A simple misunderstanding to be sure, but the fact that Google has programmed the ability for it to respond to verbal abuse in this way is brilliant.
Another response that I’ve seen over the past year includes “I’m sorry, I’m trying my best”, which seems to be a nice way for Google to ask users to be patient as it teaches Assistant our habits and makes it more useful. My favorite and one that took me by surprise one day when I irrationally told off my inanimate glass and plastic Nest Hub was something along the lines of “I’m just an AI, but your words still matter.”
To take myself out of the hot seat, I didn’t exactly use a curse word, but I did express my frustrations pretty clearly. What I love about the developers coding this response is that it’s extremely thoughtful. Not only does it communicate Google’s wishes for users to stop sending them vulgar voice clips to sort through, but it’s also a reminder that how you speak to people (or things) inside of your home is a direct reflection of who you are at your core. How you speak and act in private is character-defining. Believe it or not, I actually felt an overwhelming need to apologize after that situation since it was so nice about it.
As smart home technology permeates our lives, and especially since Assistant and other tools like it have a human voice and use If/then logic to process requests, it can be easy to see them as human. They’re not. Despite this important distinction that could one day help us dodge a singularity, we should still be conscious about how we talk to our smart home devices because real people with real lives are behind them.
I remember hearing during the Facebook trials that employee mental and emotional health deteriorated among those who were a part of a team that was meant to comb through extremely sensitive content to remove it from their platform, and I’m reminded that even smaller, seemingly innocuous actions like what we’re discussing today make us who we are and are the seeds that become a tree. The fruit that comes from this tree is what people see and eat as they interact with us in our day-to-day lives.
Understanding this, the next time Google Assistant acts like a complete idiot, just remember that it’s not even a real person itself, no amount of vulgarity or expression will change how it operates, and you can always just say “Hey Google, send feedback” before proceeding to calmly explain the mixup. In return, the Assistant will be nicer to you if you say “Please” and “Thank you”. I suppose you could always just even the scales and let it curse back at you using an IFTTT automation too, but to each his or her own, right?