Thursday, March 07, 2019

"It's official. We are living in the future."


That's the final line of a story on Android Authority about the expansion of Google Duplex to more areas (and, eventually, to phones other than the Google Pixel).

Google Duplex lets Google Assistant make phone calls (if necessary) on your behalf and schedule reservations/appointments. It has a human-sounding voice, but does identify itself as a digital assistant.

Like this: "OK Google, schedule a table for four at 9pm tomorrow night at [insert restaurant here]." After you do that, Google looks up whether or not the place takes reservations. If so, it schedules your reservation that way. If not, it calls up the restaurant and talks with them to get your reservation.

Which may seem kind of trivial, but I don't think it is.

Digital assistants can already handle or partially handle a bunch of things that used to be more difficult and/or time-consuming.

I don't use Google Assistant for much other than in the car when I need directions ("OK, Google, navigate to 123 E Street") or a quick answer to something of immediate importance or interest ("OK Google, what are the hours at Publix's pharmacy today?"), because my choice of "home" assistant is Amazon's Alexa system. So I'll go with that one since I know it better.

"Alexa, set an alarm for 6am" (instead of futzing with a clock).

"Alexa, what's the weather?" (instead of watching the news on TV or sitting down to look it up on the web).

"Alexa, play songs by the Grateful Dead" (instead of finding and using an album, cassette, CD, MP3 player, etc.).

"Alexa, turn off the living room light" (instead of getting off my fat ass and walking over to the switch).

Etc., etc.

All of which seemed like science fiction 20 years ago, I guess, but having a digital assistant interact with other humans or THEIR digital assistants for you takes it to a whole new level.

Science fiction, even pretty recent science fiction, is full of "fetches" and "avatars" and so forth -- digital assistants who basically handle all of your affairs if you let them and those devices are one way of signaling that the story is set in the future, not the present.

It does sound like we're just about there, doesn't it?

I'm kind of looking forward to the day when I can just yell "Alexa, book me a flight to Columbus on Thursday, to return the following Wednesday, and a rental car for all of those days, with a hotel for each night I'm gone convenient to [address]. Keep it under $X. Oh, outside of that budget I also want a table for two at [insert restaurant] at 6pm on Friday; you know my order, I'll fill you in on my guest's when I have it." And bam, the next time I look at my phone, there's my itinerary.

Privacy? Surveillance? They're watching all of us all the time anyway. Might as well take advantage of the conveniences that come with it.

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