Hey Google, I do have to command!

Anne Clerx

Hey Google, play music", "Hey Google, what will the weather be like?", “Hey Google, set a timer for five minutes." Since I have a Google Home, a lot of my conversations have been like this. Google is my best friend when it comes to playing music, asking what time it is or listening to the news. And I'm not the only one. In May 2019, half a million Dutch people already had a smart speaker, such as the Google Home.[1] In the United States, even one in three households has one. The most common feature is music playback, followed by answering questions (“Hey Google, how high is Mount Everest?”), Telling the weather forecast, and setting an alarm clock[2]

Do you really need a Google Home to do these tasks for you? I don't think so. An alarm clock is easily set (on your phone) and for the time you can just look at the clock. Yet you get used to it quickly. As soon as you can ask Google everything at home, you assume that this can be done anywhere, anytime. For example, I was about to ask the radio in the car: "Hey Google, what's this song called?"

Chat with Google

The appeal of the device is great. People who come to my house often like to talk to Google. Or, in the words of my seven-year-old neighbor: “Hey Google, tell a joke. Hey Google, tell another joke. Hey Google, tell another joke. ”

When English friends came over, we added the English language. The result: Google didn't understand what language you spoke in, spoke back in any language, and then didn't know whether to tell the weather forecast, the time, or the news. The first three times fun guaranteed, the fourth time I threw off the English language again. After all, I just want Google to play my music.

"How angry you speak"

I put all my questions to Google neatly, I thought. Until a friend said: "How angry you always speak to him." I went to pay attention, and indeed: Google listens best to a low voice without too much intonation or unnecessary words. In other words, an angry voice that gives commands. In a normal voice, Google's answer is quickly: Sorry, I don't understand."

Moreover, that sentence sometimes comes through a normal conversation with friends. The Google Assistant occasionally understands “Hey Google” or “Oke Google”, while saying something else. These are so-called false positives: Google thinks it recognizes its command, but it isn’t.[3] As soon as this happens, you realize again that you have a listening robot in your living room. This seems to me a good reason for many people not to purchase a voice assistant. The idea that someone can listen to you all the time - even if it's a robot - can be frightening. In July 2019, it was also reported in the news that some conversations with the Google Home are listened to by employees afterwards to improve functionality. In some cases this also includes fragments that were accidentally recorded, as a result of those false positives.[4] Although in most cases I personally don't mind the fact that Google is listening in, I have turned off recording of conversations anyway.[5] I thought it was a step too far to put my Google Home out of my living room. You get used to the convenience of setting a timer and play music quickly.

So Google and I are not yet at the point that we can have a good conversation. I speak in an angry voice, to which Google sometimes replies that he does not understand me. What he can do very well? To predict the future. Worth a try: "Hey Google, look inside your glass ball."

Anne Clerx is an analyst at ftrprf. She wrote this article in a personal capacity for the theme Robotization


[1] https://www.emerce.nl/nieuws/half-miljoen-nederlandse-huishoudens-hebben-slimme-luidspreker

[2] https://numrush.nl/waar-gebruiken-mensen-hun-smart-speakers-het-meest-voor/

[3] https://androidworld.be/tips/google-niet-meeluistert-naar-je-gesprekken/

[4] https://nos.nl/artikel/2292889-google-medewerkers-luisteren-nederlandse-gesprekken-mee.html

[5] https://androidworld.be/tips/google-niet-meeluistert-naar-je-gesprekken/

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