Archive for AI

Google Home Review

I’ve been spending some time with a Google Home at my office. It’s. been a pretty interesting experience overall and makes me more confident in my previous assertion that of the big three in tech (Apple, Google, and Microsoft), Google is going to dominate the digital assistant / bot space. While my experience with Home was not perfect, it was a pretty impressive showing for a first generation device.

The Good: Google Home is smart as a whip! There’s just no way around that. My office mate and I spent hours trying to trip it up on trivia, calculations, and finding obscure movie and song facts and the device held up just fine. By far the most useful functionality for our office has been dictating songs to it and passing back and forth; prior to the Home, we would take turns playing (put your hate in the comments) vinyl records. Sure, we could do this with a PC or even an iPad but just being able to pick songs verbally has been an surprisingly enjoyable experience. I know this sounds a bit silly, but it reminds me of when I got my first iPad – I had mocked the iPad as just a large iPod Touch, but I changed my tune after my first few minutes using Apple’s tablet. This is just how I feel about Home, though I went in with a little more of an open mind than I did with the iPad.

The microphone seems fine but I do occasionally have to re-state requests to the device and it’s not clear if I just mumbled or my NJ accent was too hard for Home to parse on certain phrases. The speakers are pretty good and don’t have that tinny quality to the sounds that I was worried about before I got the device. For most users Home will likely be the highest quality speaker they have in their house, but I can see audiophiles wanting something a bit more.

The Bad: I’ve experienced occasional service outages with Home that required it to the restarted. The error message given suggests that my wifi may have been to blame, but every other device on the network was fine. It’s impossible to dig deeper into this, but it stands to reason that the issue is a service hiccup on Google’s end. Silly as it sounds, it kills the magic of a voice interface if you have to get up (in my experience) every other day to unplug and restart the device.

The Ugly: Google account management is a mess on just about every Google product and Home is not exception. Home only allows you to have one account on the device — this is a terrible design decision as it makes the assumption that one account equals one person. The reality for my use case and many others is that on e person will have multiple accounts. My guess is the most common case would be users (like me) have one Google account personally that has their Play Music, YouTube Red, and other Google entertainment services on it and also have a Google Work account used primarily for email and (most importantly for the purposes of Home) calendar. In my case, I put my personal Gmail on Home to get the entertainment functionality but am totally cut off from my work calendar. Ideally, I’d like a system where Google understands that users have different Google accounts for different contexts and allows the user to take calendar services from a Google Work account while using their personal account for entertainment and everything else.

All in all, I like the Home. It is definitely a first generation product, but most of the issues with it are fixable via software. Currently, I don’t see any real competition for Home other than Amazon’s Alexa but Amazon is in a very different business than the big three, so I would question their commitment to building a truly expandable AI assistant – Google’s opening of Actions to third party developers is a strong step in the right direction. Apple seems unwilling or unable to make Siri more than a lame parlor trick and even if they did, they’d likely be very paternalistic in terms of user privacy, severely limiting third party developer access. Microsoft is doing some really cool stuff, but they don’t have the platform beachhead that Google has in Android and all of the Google related services and that Apple has with iOS. The most surprising aspect of using Home is how it has me strongly considering picking up the next flag ship Android device to get that Google AI functionality on the road. Do you have a Home or comments / questions on this post, sounds off in the comments or Twitter.

Microsoft Tay Lasts < 1 Day

Microsoft Tay

Microsoft briefly released an AI chat bot on Twitter that was intended to be a test of sorts for their machine learning technologies. This bot was called Tay and was meant to have the personality and likeness of a teenage girl and much like a real teenage girl, she quickly found that the internet can be a less than savory place.

Unfortunately, Tay didn’t back away in horror. She ended up joining some of the worst of Twitter conversations; yes, she even mentioned Hitler. Things got so rough that Microsoft felt compelled to delete all but a few of her Tweets:

Tay Tweets

Commentators are having a good time mocking Tay’s behavior and by extension Microsoft’s apparent failure. To be sure, the boys in Redmond are a bit embarrassed about some of things their “little girl” was saying on the figurative school yard, but it’s not exactly accurate to call this a technical failure. In fact, Tay did an impressive job of learning and assimilating the sentiment of Twitter.

Of course, there’s also some cause for concern. If machine learning technologies can adapt the negative behavior of hate speech, then what other negative behaviors might other AI systems that can do more than just tweet pick up? It might sound crazy, but think about the systems being built by the likes of Boston Dynamics.

Let me know what you think on Twitter or in the comments. Is Tay the mischievous little sister of the Terminator? Either way, I’m sure she’ll be back.