Siri, Cortana and Alexa are virtual assistants with female personas — though Siri can be a man too. Until today Google voice search didn’t have an identity or persona, though it has a female voice.
That is changing with the official roll out of Google Home. For the launch of Home, Google took its voice search capabilities and added a persona. So instead of calling Google’s spoken results Google Now, OK Google or Google voice search, it/she will now be the “Google Assistant,” which is not quite a human-sounding name, but better and more descriptive than Google Now.
Like Amazon, Google will have devices (i.e., Home, Pixel phones) and products (i.e., Allo) that feature the Assistant the way Amazon has the Echo and Echo Dot, powered by Alexa. All this was previewed at Google I/O this summer. You can interact with the Assistant in more limited form today in Google’s new messaging app Allo.
This summer it appeared that Google wasn’t going to use the name “Assistant” for its Google Home voice persona or as a consumer facing product name. However it appears the company changed its mind over the course of the past several months. (The assistant will launch as female but over time it will offer more voices and potentially personas.)
According to Ryan Germick, who lead the Google Doodles team and helped develop the Assistant’s personality, Google Assistant should be thought of as a kind of friendly companion, “Always there but never in the way; her primary job is to be helpful.”
Like Siri, Cortana and Alexa, Google Assistant will tell jokes and have conversational features to “humanize” and make Google “more approachable.” One of the advantages that Google has with the Assistant over its rivals is its search index and knowledge graph. However Germick said that there may be instances where Google Home will not provide a result rather than offer a list of search results read back.
Germick explained that in creating the Assistant’s personality, Google utilized “storytellers” from Pixar and The Onion, among others, to craft scripted answers to a broad range of questions. Presumably this is where the humor will show up. However over time there may also be “AI jokes” (we’ll see).
“Fun in, fun out,” Germick added. That means users will need to prompt the Assistant for jokes or snark, which won’t happen unsolicited. But that’s apparently happening quite a bit in Allo (e.g., “What is the meaning of life”).
Germick called the Google Assistant a “beautiful marriage of technology and scripting.” The proof will be in the user experience — though what we saw today demo’d was impressive to me — and undoubtedly we’ll see numerous side-by-side comparisons of the Google Assistant with its competitors when Home formally comes out November 4. (Apple is also rumored to be working on a stand-alone Siri powered smart home device.)
For now we have the video released at I/O, showcasing the Google Home user experience.