No man can serve two masters: for either he
will hate the one, and love the other; or else
he will hold to the one, and despise the other…”
Sundar Pichai unveiled the new AI-powered “Voice Assistant” at the recent Google IO conference to an ecstatic crowd. If you are one of the rare few who missed it, watch it here- link.
Congratulations Sundar- you have clearly passed the Turing test!
But, let us take a moment to think- is this to be unequivocally welcomed? Who is the real master of our friendly Google Assistant?
When we buy an appliance, we are in full control of it – we use it and then we trash it, and it’s our call. But Google Assistant is unlike any appliance/service that we may have possessed. The more we use it the less we may want to trash it.
It comes for “free”, and there is nothing for free in this world! The idea behind “free” is to get us dependent on the naturally conversational assistant by giving voice commands such as “Hey Google, book a table for four; Hey Google call my brother; Hey Google, who just texted me?”
With time it becomes an indispensable part of our lives in getting everyday things done. Think of a life without Google Search or Google Maps. Unthinkable, isn’t it? We were okay being so dependent on search and maps, but here is another level of dependency. And that’s Google’s vision for the assistant!
So, we now have a free voice assistant- who do you think is the real master of the “Google Assistant” and who takes full control of it- You or Google?
Let us be charitable and assume it is 90 %-You and 10 %-Google who has control over the “Assistant”. It is moderately schizophrenic– it largely serves us (90%), but doesn’t forget it’s other master- Google (10%).
What are the implications there?
The Birth of UGT- Universal Google Tax
Let’s revisit Sundar Pichai’s keynote during this launch. “Google’s vision for the assistant is to help you get things done, and a big part of making things done is scheduling a phone call, which could be an oil change schedule, calling a plumber in the middle of the week or even scheduling a hair-cut appointment”.
He continues by stating that Google’s objective is to connect the users to businesses in a “good way”! (Thanks for acknowledging that you may not have been so “good” in your earlier services). So, apparently Google now turns into an intermediary to enable “frictionless commerce” between consumers and businesses through phone calls made by “their” digital assistant residing on our phones! With shareholder value maximization being the core value of any listed entity, why should we not expect Google booking an appointment with a hair salon that maximizes the value for Google, making it a not so value for money proposition for us?
I like to call this the Universal Google Tax (UGT). With our increased dependency on the Google Assistant, we would never question its judgement and may end paying a small “tax” (UGT) in every transaction.
Say Hello to my Digital Avatar
Very soon this assistant will not utter ‘um’, ‘er’ and ‘ah’ like a generic American. It will mimic our individual idiosyncrasies, accents, words, phrases etc. and become our digital avatar.
How long before my “Google Assistant” talks to your “Google Assistant” and we cut the human from the transaction? Pichai pitched Google Assistant saying small businesses do not have web front, but he knew all along that every person has a potential Google Assistant on his/her mobile phone. And that is probably his ultimate vision- which is that the Google Assistants of two parties finding a mutually convenient solution, which also benefits Google in every transaction.
Welcome to the world of a life choreographed by Google Assistants.
We need an Assistant- But one which is really so? The Mini-Me, Mono-Master (MM)…
Will Google ever make its “Voice Assistant” a paid service? Never, as making it a paid service will reduce the user base and reduce data collection, and in effect reducing the IQ of Google Assistant by 20 points :).
We could all do with a digital assistant but with the assurance that the “Assistant” works only in the interest of us- the human owner.
So, are you worried or excited about the potential of “Google Assistant”?
I would be okay with it only when the AI-Powered “Google Assistant” can work its magic without the Internet and lose its tether to the mothership at Mountain View!