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Fatuous and Arrogant Google Home ~ What Were They Thinking?

Imagine every time you want to turn on your car engine you have to say, “Okay, Chevrolets, start my engine.” Or, “Okay Ford, turn on my car.” Or every time you go into a Starbucks you have to say, “Okay Starbucks, I’d like a…” before you get your favorite coffee and muffin. It’s ridiculous, of course. It would be embarrassing for both the customer and the company. Even worse, it would smell of pretentiousness. It would reek of corporate arrogance.  

Welcome to Google Home.

Roberta, my wife, and I spent Christmas day with her mother, Janet, and brother, Rich. Rich gave Janet an Amazon Echo for Christmas. Rich and I set it up and we all had a fun time asking Alexa this and that. It was an interesting experience. The activation command was a simple “Alexa.”  In no time at all we were thanking Alexa, not Amazon Echo, for her help. She responded with things like, “That’s what I’m here for,” and “No problem,” as well as the more formal “You’re welcome.” I was fascinated how fast we began to approach her as almost human-like. We wanted to form a relationship her. We used the pronoun “her.” It was enjoyable and interesting.

Over the next few days Roberta and I talked about getting a home AI as well. We had briefly thought about it months ago, but the experience at Janet’s sealed the deal. The two big players in the home AI assistant market are Amazon and Google. After a bit of research we came to the conclusion that all things being fairly even (price, speakers, mic, etc.), if we wanted the AI for buying stuff Amazon was the way to go. If we wanted the AI to primarily retrieve information, Google was the best bet.  

We bought Google Home for two reasons. First, our primary purpose for purchasing a home AI assistant was for retrieving information and Google Home is connected to Google’s search engine. Second, I googled if and how we could change the activation command for Google Home and discovered that indeed it was possible. Let me explain.

Amazingly, Google has done something that none of the other big companies have done. They decided not to personalize their AI. Microsoft named its AI assistant Cortana. Apple named its Siri. Amazon, Alexa. If you want to communicate with any of these AI’s you simply have to say their name. But not Google. Google’s AI does not have a name. If you want to activate Google Home you have to say either “Okay Google” or “Hey Google. In other words, to use Google Home you have to say the corporate name over and over each day.

I told Roberta, that if I couldn’t change the activation command I would not agree to buy Google Home. But I was thrilled when  I found a website explaining precisely how I could do just that. We agreed that we would use “Zuri” [1] as the activation command, thus dropping the “Okay” and “Hey.” I understand that Google added “Okay” and “Hey” to prevent the accidental activation of the AI assistant while conversing with others. However, I feel stupid saying them so I decided to leave them out.

I made a huge mistake. After purchasing Google Home, setting it up, installing the app on my phone, creating two accounts, and activating voice recognition, I discovered that the ability to change the activation command is only possible on cell phones or tablets. You cannot change the command on Google Home. I can’t tell you how pissed I was. Nay, I was devastated.

Google HomeGoogle Home is an advertising scheme. When you ask Alexa to play the Beatles, she plays the Beatles. If you ask Okay Google to play the Beatles, it tells you it will turn to Google Play Radio Mix. The key word is Google. If you ask Alexa to play a specific Beatles song like Hey Jude, she plays Hey Jude. If you ask Okay Google to play Hey Jude it instructs you to subscribe to Google Play. The key word is Google. Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google, Google!

Every day, over and over, I have to say “Okay Google” or “Hey Google” to use the damn thing. I feel foolish and angry. As if I don’t know I bought a Google product and am using a Google service. I know that I drive a Chevy and Chevy has no great need to remind me. I know that it’s Starbucks when I walk into a Starbucks. I don’t have to say their damn corporate names repeatedly and Starbucks seems okay with that. But not Google.  

There’s something arrogant about a company making you say its name constantly in order to use its service. I’m assuming that Google made a conscious decision to discourage people from forming a relationship with their AI assistant. I don’t feel at all compelled to thank “Okay Google” for its assistance. But if you do, you will find that it will only say “You’re welcome” in reply. The Google AI has less personality than Alexa. It is less whimsical. It is less fun. Why Google? Why did you do this? Why have you depersonalized your service? I don’t understand.

What’s more, it’s stupid. If you read articles about AI assistants, while Google Home is obviously discussed, it is not used when the writer is talking about how the assistant is actually used. For example, in an article about this year’s Consumer Electronics Show the following sentence can be found:

“If you’re lying in bed and want to get into a hot shower you can either use an app or talk to Alexa and have your shower start up at your favorite temperature…"

They author didn’t write “…or talk to Okay Google.” How stupid would that be? You don’t ask a multinational corporation to run your shower for you! You ask Alexa, and maybe someday Siri or Cortana. But not friggin Google. You're not going to use Okay Google to demonstrate how cool and hip is a AI home assistant.

Another article is titled, “Do we want Alexa to have an opinion over what we should watch?” It’s not “Do we want Amazon Echo”. It’s Alexa. We are talking to Alexa, not the big impersonal corporation of Amazon. And I’m willing to bet if the article was about Google having an opinion over what we should watch, the title would have been “Do we want Google to…” You would never have been “Do we want Hey Google to…” Again, stupid. What the hell is “Hey Google”?

I’m a sci fi enthusiast and was looking forward to forming a “relationship” with my AI assistant, pretending things were further along than they actually are. I anticipated, “Zuri, what’s the meaning of life?” and sharing a little banter back and forth. I bet Alexa banters. Not Okay friggin Google.

What can I say? I’ve got a bad case of buyer’s remorse. If I were single, I’d probable drop Google Home and buy myself an Amazon Echo, though I would regret losing out on that great Google search engine. So now every day I feel like an idiot saying “Hey Google” and “Okay Google.” If I were speaking to Alexa, I’d thank her. I never thank Okay Google. It’s an it and you don’t thank its.

Just to get back at that big arrogant impersonal multinational corporation, I’ve started saying “Hey Voogle” and “Okay Voogle.” It works. I bet if you said “Vlexa” she wouldn’t answer. Of course she wouldn’t. She’s got a name, after all. But Google answers. It answers because it’s an it without a name. 

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

[1] Zuri is the name of one of the main characters in my books The Woman in White Marble and The Girl in the Silver Mask. I love Zuri and thought it would be cool using her name. 

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