The battle for our living rooms
We’ve talked recently about how the profits of the world’s largest tech companies will be driven by artificial intelligence. In 2014, Amazon released Echo, an AI-powered speaker that listens for voice commands using seven microphones to identifying and respond to requests. Despite research by many of the major tech giants, the product had no real competition, that is until now.
Today Google revealed its answer to Amazon Echo, an AI speaker called Google Home, alongside the launch of their new Pixel X and Pixel XL smartphones. The device is powered by the Google Assistant, activated by the phrase “Okay, Google” and with this launch brings chatbots into the mainstream.
The launch of an AI device hasn’t come from nowhere – it’s the result of years of steady development. Google Home was initially announced at Google’s I/O keynote event in May 2016, and had been in the works for a number of years. According to ex-employees, it was the restrictive structure of Google itself that meant Amazon could overtake them, as development teams weren’t encouraged to collaborate. Two years later, the corporation has finally caught up. It isn’t unlike Google to bide their time when it comes to products and services – for example, teams have been developing autonomous driving technology for several years… Uber already has an entire fleet of driverless cars, and the company itself isn’t even seven years old. Basically, Google doesn’t rush into things. But was Google Home worth the wait? Well, the Google Assistant software is pretty impressive, and is also a standard deliverable on the new Google smartphones. The aim is to approach human-level accuracy. It can deal with commands and fairly complicated questions instantly, with the wealth of the internet to fall back on if the assistant’s knowledge fails. The device is activated by voice command, allowing the user to have a conversation with the assistant. Its capabilities are split into four categories – music, answers, everyday tasks and controlling home devices. Whereas Echo costs around $199, Google’s competing product is much cheaper at $129.
Like Echo, there’s a clear focus on accessible, seamless software, and the design is sleek and simple. Google Home is also customisable, available in six different colours – mango, marine, violet, carbon, snow and copper. According to Rishi Chandra of Google, the company will now look to make links with an extensive list of partners.
How will this cause disruption?
The release of another voice-controlled device is adding to the importance of voice commands as the preferred way to interact with technology. The simple, compact and affordable device will contribute to the general technological disruption of the domestic sphere, where Internet of Thing is providing increasing connectivity. AI devices like Google Home and Echo will eventually be integrated into these smart home systems, making AI even more a part of our lives. As well as this, Google is the go-to for information searches. By using this ubiquitous knowledge to power their Artificial Intelligence, they will make information increasingly and instantly accessible. The Google Assistant is actually designed to be constantly accessible, any time, anywhere. The wider availability of information could lead to disruption in education patterns – it’s not going to stop people from sending their children to school, but they might think twice about employing home tutors when the little robot in the corner has all the answers. Disruption to the classroom will come if Google brings out a similar product called Google School, or something similar, that could be used as a learning aid.
Back over the threshold into the home, though, and it’s worth debating whether or not society could reach the point where AI is a fairly standard component of the home, as much as a TV or a microwave. If it can, then our domestic lives are set to be fundamentally altered. Somewhat paradoxically, though, the power of Google Home is not how it will change the domestic sphere, but how it integrates with it effortlessly.
The business angle
For businesses who are developing AI, Google’s venture into the home is a worrying challenge -because it’s Google. If any corporation has the knowledge to create super-intelligent AI, then it’s the world’s most popular search engine. For entertainment providers like Netflix and YouTube, teaming up with Google Home is a way to push content and make money. Chandra made it quite clear that Google Home is on the lookout for new partners, which obviously presents a massive business opportunity. Google’s choice to adopt a stationary, discrete aesthetic may also have consequences for social robotics. Whilst humanoid bots are fun, a static AI bot is far less intrusive. This doesn’t mean that the market will become obsolete. What Amazon and Google have done is offer products to help ease consumers into the gradual adoption of AI. There’s also a lesson to be learnt about collaborative work within business models. Flexibility is key to innovation, so imposing draconian structures isn’t advisable. Google initially discouraged teams from working together, whereas Amazon took a more homogenous approach and were able to create their product first.
It took them long enough, but Google have created a nifty little device that’s affordable, straight forward and price competitive. Google Assistant is nothing short of impressive, with a long list of capabilities from producing whale noises to summarising the stock exchange. Overall, Google Home represents yet another step towards cementing conversation as the key medium for engaging with AI, and in the future perhaps with technology in general. If you’re desperate to get your hands on one of the little pods (designed with wine glasses and candles in mind, apparently) then you’ll have to wait until they ship on November 4th – but customers can pre-order from today.
Will Google Home overtake Echo? Could your company work with Google Home? How successful will Google’s venture into mobile AI be? Share your thoughts and opinions.