Virtual Assistants: Google Assistant and Google Nest

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

Chatbots are everywhere these days and being one of the biggest players in the tech world, Google had to step up. Google Assistant is a virtual assistant developed by Google that is available on all Android devices, and it is arguably the world’s most advanced personal assistant.

Google Home, now called Google Nest, is Google’s smart speaker lineup created and commissioned by Google under their brand Google Nest. These smart devices let users speak to them and command them with natural language commands. The system working at the backend of these devices is the same Google Assistant software that is available in Android devices.

Google Assistant connects up with a number of devices in the Google Nest family of products.

Google Assistant

Google Assistant is an virtual assistant, an advanced version of an AI chatbot, that enables you to perform tasks smartly and in a faster way. Developed by Google, it is primarily available on Android smartphones and Google’s smart devices. Google Assistant is the evolved form of Google Now. Google Now was Google’s previous personal assistant software, which was only capable of one-way conversation and was not able to reply in natural language.

The main mode of interaction with Google Assistant is through voice, but it can work with keyboard input as well. Google Assistant has all the capabilities you can look for in a virtual assistant like searching the Internet, scheduling events and alarms, adjusting hardware settings on your device, and showing information from your Google account. The added features of Google Assistant include the ability to identify songs playing nearby, visually analyzing and searching your surroundings with your device’s camera, sending money, and making purchases.

Google Assistant was introduced back in May 2016 when Google released their messaging app named Allo and the voice-activated smart speakers called Google Home, now Google Nest. At the start, the assistant was only available on Google’s own Pixel smartphones, but by the start of 2017, it was made available on all smartphones running on Android OS and in Android Wear. The assistant was made available as a stand-alone application on iOS by the mid of 2017. In the same year, Google Pixelbook became the first-ever laptop to have Google Assistant built into it, and all Android TVs released after July 2017 also come equipped with Google Assistant. Google Pixel Buds also have the assistant built into them.

Google announced they were going to release smart displays powered by Google Assistant at CES 2018, and the first one was released in July, the same year.

As of now, Google Assistant is available on more than 1 billion devices, supports 30 languages, and is used by 500 million people every month across 90 countries.

Google Assistant is equipped with an algorithm that helps it learn more about the user with the passage of time. Once allowed to do so, it can keep the track of the user’s search history, YouTube history, frequently visited places, and other preferences and gives suggestions based on that. IT can keep track of the physical activity of the user, remember important dates and events, organize your calendar, and can do much more.

Google is also fueling research on third-party apps to work with Google Assistant. The initiative, known as “Actions on Google” is started to give the developers the liberty to create apps that can work with Google’s smart devices. In 2017 Google even released a software development kit (SDK) that can make it possible for third-party developers to embed Google Assistant into their own hardware and the beneficiaries include Raspberry Pi, Volvo, Audi, and many smart home appliance, manufacturers.

The latest development from Google, which is way ahead of any other AI assistant platform, is Google Duplex. Introduced in May 2018, this software is capable of executing the tasks assigned to it on its own without the need for any input from the user. Some of the things Duplex can do include calling a doctor or a hairstylist to get an appointment, scheduling restaurant and hotel reservations, and calling places to ask if they are open or not. Duplex is capable of recreating pure human conversation style by adding hmm, uh, um, and gotcha in its dialogue with humans.

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Google Nest (Formerly Google Home)

Google Home was released in the US at the end of 2016 and globally by 2017. It is a smart speaker that is powered by Google Assistant. The speakers are pretty much similar to Amazon’s Alexa. The speakers now also come with displays built into them. Users can control music playback, videos, and photo displays on these devices entirely by using voice commands. Google Nest devices now fully support home automation and enable the users to control various smart devices in their homes with voice commands.

Google has been developing and adding new functionality to the Google Nest devices via software updates. These updates include the functionality of connecting and syncing multiple smart speakers to play one audio file. These devices are also capable of multiple user control and can distinguish between 6 different people from the household and come up with solutions and suggestions according to the user interacting with them.

Google also introduced the ability of hands-free calling with zero cost across the US and Canada in 2017. Google Nest devices can now remind users proactively ahead of events and appointments. They can also create visual responses on smartphones or Chromecast supporting televisions.

Data and Security for Google Assistant and Google Nest

In order to be able to use Google Assistant or Google Nest services, you need to have a Google account. If you are using Google Assistant on your smartphone, your Google account from the device will be used. In case you are using it from a Google Nest smart device, you will need to create an account and sync your device with it using the Google Home mobile application.

Google’s voice technology can be used to unlock your device by saying “OK Google”. This can work for a smartphone as well, and there have been cases where people were able to unlock a device by playing a recording of the user’s “OK Google”. It is a security vulnerability you need to be aware of. Google Nest devices also need authorization for doing certain tasks, and they also recognize their owner using the same “OK Google” method.

The Final Verdict

Personal Assistants are becoming more and more common, and they are no longer a tech gimmick and rather becoming a necessity. They simplify a lot of tasks for us. Google is ahead of all other tech companies in terms of Personal Assistants.

There is simply no comparison between Google Assistant and Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa, or any other personal assistant for that matter. Google’s Assistant can converse with the user and others just like humans do and can complete many tasks with complete autonomy. Google has also introduced the assistant in their smart devices, the Google Nest speakers. All of these devices make interacting with the internet and with your smart appliances easy and efficient. There are, however, some security loopholes that Google needs to take care of.

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2 thoughts on “Virtual Assistants: Google Assistant and Google Nest”

  1. I did not realize that Google Assistant could do so much. I have so far keep clear of virtual assistants because I do not entirely trust the motives behind the desire to collect so much user information.

    Obviously, the more the assistant learns about it’s user, the better equipped it becomes to do it’s job. But it is the data breaches and data sharing that still freak me out a little. As it’s still a relatively new innovation, I guess there is always a learning curve, and trust-building that will develop over time. I imagine it’s quite possible that I’ve already had a phone conversation with a virtual assistant and been unaware of it?

    I look forward to making my life a little easier with one of there devices in the near future.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Andrew,

      I understand the anxiety around Virtual Assistants, which is why I typically tell those who ask me that they should choose the VA from the company they trust the most. It basically comes down to what the motives of the company are and who has the best record with user privacy.

      Motives:
      All the companies want to make money, so let’s remove that from the equation.

      • Google wants to know more about us to try and serve us the right content.
      • Apple and Amazon want to know more about us to try and sell us more stuff.
      • Facebook wants to know more about us so they can develop their Social Profiles more.

      Privacy Record: List of data breaches.

      • Google One data breach in 2018 for Google Plus hitting 500,000 users.
      • Amazon One data breach on 2019 in Japan for an unknown number of users.
      • Apple Two data breaches in 2012 and 2013 for a total of 12,500,000 users.
      • Facebook Five data breaches in 2013, 2018, and 3 in 2019 for a total of 864,500,000 users.

      So for me it’s between Amazon and Google. Amazon is best for smart home integration, but Google is the smarter bot and can interact with you in more interesting ways. Google already knows a ton about you from your phone (if you use an Android phone) and website use. Amazon already has enough information if you shop there.

      As for your thoughts about already having a phone conversation with a chatbot or VA and not being aware of it. I’d bet you have, some of the smarter ones even mimic the pauses and “umm” sounds we make when we’re thinking about an answer. Google’s Duplex does this frighteningly well. Here’s an example of the Google Assistant making an appointment at a Hair Salon.

      I hope that answers some of your questions,
      Sean

      Reply

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