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Opinion: Google wants to make me dumber by making its tech smarter

|October 5, 2016 |Android Phones, Mobiles, Android, Google, Editorial

"Google Assistant will soon be all pervasive and take over your life"

Take a look at the video below. It is from one of the most revered quiz shows in the world – Mastermind. A BBC brainchild, the show also had an Indian version with Siddhartha Basu as the quiz master. I fondly remember watching this show with my dad. I was generally dumbfounded by the intelligence of the quiz players, while my father secretly wished that I’d sit on that black chair and answer Basu’s questions with the same fervour as the contestant. This was the 90s equivalent of “Sharmaji ka beta!”

Why am I talking about MasterMind when I should be talking about Google, and all the strides it is taking with machine learning and an AI-first approach? I believe while our collective knowledge base is expanding thanks to the technology, the intrusion of the same intelligent technology, especially artificial intelligence like Siri, Alexa, and now Google Assistant, is actually making us dumber. The death of these very quiz shows could be one proof that we are degrading as a humankind. However, that is a discussion for another day.

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While I am no psychology expert, I can say that earlier I could at least answer a few Mastermind questions but now I will possibly find it easier to ask Google Assistant or Siri, based on my platform of choice. Sorry dad, but I am dumber now!

(Also read: 
Top announcements from the Google Pixel launch event)

So, what is the new Google Assistant? It's a voice-enabled AI, just like Apple’s Siri, that will be at the heart of all smartphones running Android Nougat. You know that Assistant is important for Google when the entire event is centred around it and Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, declares that Google is now moving from a mobile-first approach to an AI-first one. Apple might have been the first to take AI seriously with Siri, but Google has a lot more information at its disposal to make it a bigger deal.

It is not just the smartphones but also other hardware — one of them being Google Home — that will come integrated with Google Assistant. If the machine learning focus is any indication, it won’t be long before Assistant will be everywhere. In the future, you could be asking Assistant to order groceries while it reads out the news of the day when you're taking a dump.

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Google is all pervasive now, and there is no reason why Assistant won’t be too. Even Sundar Pichai wants to make it “universally available.” The Google cards interface in Android was already pretty intrusive with it telling me stuff like my bills were pending or I was 30 minutes away from work. With Assistant, Google wants to make the experience a whole lot personal by adding a human touch. If this isn’t creepy tech, I don’t know what is. Cue: Radiohead’s Creep.

Pichai (and therefore, Google) wants us to have a natural language conversation with the new Assistant. Essentially, Pichai wants me to emulate Joaquin Phoenix from the movie Her, while Assistant tries to be my Samantha - the voice-enabled AI/OS from the movie.

Here’s a scenario that is quite plausible even in Google Assistant’s current state. I decide to go out for dinner with a friend and say we plan to eat from a particular restaurant. I pull up the ratings for the restaurant, using the Assistant. I reach there by hailing an Uber cab, using the Assistant. I review the restaurant because Assistant asked me to do so. Once I reach home, Assistant reminds me of my appointments for the next day and sets an alarm for 7 am. While I appreciate all the convenience, this creates a scenario where I won’t need to disturb my brain cells anymore, and that’s something I’m not buying into. That goes for you too, Apple and Amazon.



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