Monday, October 10, 2016

Every Decade

Roughly every decade, Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted during a recent presentation, the paradigm changes.  From the desktop computer in the mid-80’s, to the web in the mid-90’s, to mobile in the mid-00’s.  

And now, to artificial intelligence (AI) in the mid-10’s.

Having used Google Now (hereafter known as Google Assistant) for a year or so, Mr. Pichai’s assessment rings true. Interacting with our “intelligent assistants,” in whatever context is appropriate to the situation, is the next logical step in personal technology.  And Google is uniquely qualified to lead the way.

Apple's Siri is limited by the company’s perhaps noble yet unavoidably constricting focus on user privacy, which keeps the information necessary for effective AI locked in each of their devices.  Microsoft's Cortana is neutered by Microsoft's failure in mobile.  And Amazon's Alexa (the AI in its Echo appliance), certainly a pioneer, is limited by its sole presence on the Echo, given the demise of its mobile phones.

Which leaves Google, which is in a unique position for two powerful reasons.  One, because it can make its AI available to users in any context: our computers, mobile phones (Android or iOS), and homes (via Google Home, Google’s upcoming take on the Amazon Echo).  And two, and most importantly, because all the information it needs to be effective resides in its inimitable cloud, so all devices are looking at the same, rich data.  

Google knows more about the world than anything (or anyone) else, and so the Google Assistant is already vastly better at providing universal information than any of its competitors.  Just tonight, I asked my phone, “OK Google, who is the chief of staff.” My phone responded, immediately, out loud, “Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Denis McDonough is currently serving as President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff, a position he assumed in February 2013.” Just for the hell of it, I asked Alexa the same question.  “I don't know,” she said, “but check out the links I added to your Echo app.”  That's not going to do it, Alexa.

But just as Google knows more about the world than anyone, it also knows more about me than anyone.  Google can just as easily identify what my next calendar item is as it can identify Denis McDonough.  During the past year, Google Now has delighted me by doing things like using my calendar entries, my location and traffic conditions to automatically remind me that it’s time to leave to make it to my appointment on time.  

Pichai, during the same presentation:

Just like we built a Google for everyone, we want to build each user his or her own individual Google.

So, Google knows everything about the world.  It knows everything about me.  And its knowledge is available to my mobile phone, my computer, my home, and whatever future devices come along, as long as they have an internet connection.  Google is, therefore, uniquely positioned to interact with me in an intelligent way.  And it does. But this is only the beginning.

Google’s assistant will not only retain, process, analyze and return information, it will also help users get things done efficiently by becoming a ubiquitous intermediary, just like a good human assistant.  Google’s linking of its assistant with external companies’ systems enables actions such as, “OK Google, get me an Uber,”  “OK Google, dim the living room lights,”  “OK Google, play my dinner party list on Spotify.”  And so on.

Bottom line: if Mr. Pichai is right (and I really think he is), and AI is the next paradigm, Google is uniquely qualified to succeed.  

And the future could not be in better hands.

(Photo: “The famous red eye of HAL 9000” by Cryteria, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.)