Google just launched its Google Pixel smartphones this morning. One of the biggest draw card for the Pixel is that it comes with Google Assistant already on-board. Google Assistant is, as the name suggests, a digital personal assistant that is activated by voice commands. It’s the next-generation of Google Now, the company’s existing voice assistant that is available across iOS and Android handsets. While Google Now is more static, Google Assistant can get to know individual users on a personal level and can do more than its predecessor. We asked Google to give us a demonstration of Assistant and we drill down on how it differs from Google Now.
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Google Now is seen as a direct competitor to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, but it’s essentially a glorified Google search using voice commands with extra goodies. Sure, it can help you schedule meetings on your smartphone and can fetch information from the internet and from some Google web services, but it doesn’t get to know the user at a deeper level.
Google Assistant aims to leverage the progress Google has made in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to create a digital assistant that learns more about the user everyday; it builds “a Google for your world,” as the marketing material suggests. You can have a two-way conversation with Google Assistant and it will answer back. It has all the functions that Google Now offers but it learns more about the user on a personal level. It remembers information from previous conversations and can call on them for context when interpreting new commands.
Here’s a live demonstration of the Google Assistant at the Pixel Australian launch event this morning:
As you can see from the demo video above, you can ask Google Assistant follow-up questions and it’s able to recall past conversations and give you a rundown of your schedule for the day. You can ask Google Assistant to recommend a restaurant, ask about where you can fill up your car, help you book tickets to the movies. The more you use it, the more useful it becomes as it learns your preferences. It can even beat-box.
While it does seem a bit creepy to have an AI assistant know so much about you, what you talk about with Google Assistant will be kept between you two. That’s what Google has said, anyway.
Although Google Assistant does integrate with some of Google’s web services like Gmail along with other third-party apps, it doesn’t work with Google’s productivity suite (Docs, Sheets and Slides). Google is working on that although there we don’t know when that will happen.
Google Assistant is already part of Google Allo, the company’s new messaging app, and is baked into the Pixel phones. At the Australian launch of Pixel, a Google representative confirmed that Google Assistant will be gradually rolled out to other Android devices but couldn’t provide a timeframe. It’s likely to completely replace Google Now in the future.