The big news out of Google I/O 2016 centered around Allo, Assistant, and Home. Much of the press has been tittering about how these products signal Google’s intention to wade into bot battle with Facebook’s Messenger, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa/Echo. While that may be so, the bigger implications are largely getting overlooked. These developments and Google’s message about its direction are not about devices or apps or things. The more impressive Google revelation is about conversational interactions and relationships. It’s about people.
Briefly, Google Allo is an Android and iOS mobile messaging app scheduled for summer release that looks much like other chat apps. But Allo is enhanced with a machine learning engine that can parse context from images and text, allowing it to suggest remarkably cogent replies during messaging conversations, among other things. It “learns” through its integration with Google Assistant.
Assistant builds on Google’s Now platform and search capabilities and profile data. It personifies the company’s deep well of natural language processing technology. In his keynote, Google CEO Sundar Pichai described it thusly: “We think of it as a conversational assistant, we want users to have an ongoing, two-way dialog with Google … to help you get things done in your real world … understanding your context … We think of this as building each user their own individual Google.” That same keynote featured an Assistant demo that showed precisely how conversational and contextual that dialog could be (voice processing, follow-on questions, and the use of pronouns were all accounted for).
Google Home, the supposed Alexa/Echo challenger, hinges on Google Assistant. Presenters at I/O poked fun at rival Amazon’s limited knowledge base by boasting, “We do much more than simple searches that can be found on Wikipedia.” And they are right to be proud. Using the full weight of Google in your daily conversations is a very powerful proposition.
The Google Home product may supply a great piece of the puzzle towards completing a connected life. Google’s various Android and Chrome implementations can potentially move Alexa-like power beyond the home and put such capability everywhere. There is no reason that your Android Wear watch or Android smartphone could not be your personalized voice conduit to the Google Assistant.
Context is everything here, and there is so much that can be done by better identifying who you are for the purpose of enhancing a new breed of generally assistive technologies. With Android in your pocket and a few beacons, you can create additional context about “where” and “who” and “what” all in the same stroke.
I’ve spent a lot of time speaking and writing about the power of this kind of human-thing conversation and social interaction and the need to reduce the friction we create between people and technology. So I’m heartened by the promise that Allo, in addition to enabling very fluid conversations with your friends, allows you to talk to your Google Assistant conversationally.
The way I see it, Google is clearly saying that its focus is not on particular apps or platforms or markets or things — it is on you. Considered in sum, these and many other Google offerings and their seemingly disparate targets and service goals, one thing is more clear than ever: By leveraging AI and natural interaction, Google intends to be the OS of your life (and also the company that provides all the development tools to build on top of that OS).
It is a brilliant position to take amid all the noise of IoT and machine learning and chatbots and smart devices and standards and augury about the future of technology. After all, life is about conversation.
Jim Hunter is chief scientist and technology evangelist at Greenwave Systems, an international Internet of things (IoT) software provider and services integrator partnering with Verizon, TCP, NXP, IBM, E.On, and others. He has created and patented several technologies in the smart, connected space and founded/two companies (to Motorola Mobility/Google) prior to joining Greenwave. Prior to the advent of the connected home, Jim served in the US Navy as a nuclear engineer and nuclear certified instructor. Follow him on Twitter: @theiotguru.