Google Assistant: what's so special about it, what can I do with it?


Google first gave us a glimpse of its assistant, shockingly named Google Assistant, when it released the chat app Allo. Within it, you could open up a chat window with Google's bot and ask it questions or test its conversational prowess. You could also invite the Assistant into chats with your friends when you need it to settle an argument or help you choose a movie to watch tonight.

However, what lives in Allo was (and still is) a Preview Edition of the Google Assistant. Now that the Google Pixel phones are out, their full-fledged Assistant is a main selling point of the phones. But you'd be forgiven if you are still a bit cloudy on what exactly this bot can do (besides becoming self-aware and destroying humanity in about 10 years).

So, the Google Assistant is an upgrade over the well-known Google Now. You haven't lost any of the old, basic features, which you may or may not have used once or twice before forgetting about the voice control of Now altogether. The basic things you can do with the Assistant include:

  • Ask it to open apps
  • Ask it to set timers, alarms, calendar events
  • Ask it to check your agenda for today
  • Ask it to call someone or send a message
  • Ask for a weather forecast
  • Ask it a Math question
  • Ask for navigation

These are in no way all of the things the Assistant (or any of its competitor voice assistants) can do. In fact, the list does grow every now and then and it's probably a daunting task to try and keep track of everything that you can ask it to do. Especially when we add some more "advanced" commands.

What we call "advanced" are the ones that would usually require the bot to do a search of something specific, then go through the results and find the information that matters to you. For example:

  • Is McDonald's open right now?
  • What time is it Moscow?
  • Show me my photos of horses from yesterday's trip
  • Create list in Keep / add to list
  • Set reminders for specific locations

... and many, many, many more. So, if we were to break these down — asking if a business is currently open requires the Assistant to do a Google search, find the information about that business' open hours, check against the current time, and present you with an answer. The Assistant is capable of untangling some pretty complex requests, though, if we are to be fair, Apple's Siri is not that far behind in terms of "advanced" tasks as well.

However, Google's Assistant does do one thing great and that's "conversational" queries. The ones where you can talk to it as if it was more a human being than an AI and expect it to be capable of keeping track of your conversation. For example, you can ask it "How do I get to Ontario?" and after Assistant presents you with an answer, continue with "What's the weather going to be like there tomorrow?". Or you can go on a string like "What movies are playing tonight?" -> "Is that second one good?" -> "Who stars in it?" and so on.

The further down you go a thread, the harder it is for Assistant to get back to the main conversation. For example, if you go on asking it questions about an actress in the movie, then try to ask it "What was the movie's score, again?", Assistant will get lost. But, assuming Google continues developing it, there's lots of potential here for you to have natural conversations with your phone (maybe even form a long-lasting friendship).

Google has also opened up Assistant to 3rd party developers, who will be able to integrate it into their products and services. Below is a list of partners who will soon be linked with Assistant:

Last, but not least, Google has implemented Deep Learning algorithms in the AI, which are supposed to tailor the bot to your needs and preferences over time. So, judging the Assistant now is probably not the best as, according to Google, it will truly shine once it learns more about us, our habits and tastes. This should result in faster, accurate, and timely suggestions and results.

Do you plan to spend a lot of quality time with your Google Assistant?
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