Google's Allo is yet another messaging app and this one has a chatbot


Google seems to be quite addicted to communication apps, many of which have faded into Google history. In the past couple of months alone, the tech giant has launched Spaces, Duo and, most recently, Allo, each offering a little something of its own. And none pulling users away from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat.

At least to start with, Google Allo has been very amusing to try out. As a messaging app, it has nothing major over the favourites — certainly nothing so compelling that it would make users switch over. Some tickers and emojis, a 'whisper' feature to increase text size when one feels in the mood to yell, and drawing over images. Users aren't going to flock over to Allo, figure out its settings and notifications and get used to a new environment for that, especially when everyone they know isn't there either.

But what Allo has baked right into it is its own chatbot or virtual assistant, just known as '@Google' and neither male nor female but 'all inclusive' and 'still young but cool young, not baby young'. Users are having a field day trying to elicit smart-alec answers to smart-alec questions. @Google will work on its own, as if it were a separate contact, or with others as part of a chat when you ask something using @Google. Because this is in context within the chat, it's relevant and contextual and saves uses the trouble of having to move away from the Allo and head to Google Search or elsewhere. The virtual assistant supplies possible responses for you to use during chat sessions, simple and limited for now, but to improve with time.

The answers are relevant also because the chatbot is trying to be artificially intelligent. Often enough, it does the job quite well. I asked for a Britney Spears song but made a mistake with one word. It still managed to find the right song and instantly pasted a YouTube video in case I'd like to hear it right then. I then asked it to give me the lyrics without specifying which song, and it knew I must be referring to the most recent requested, so it supplied the lyrics.

The virtual assistant tells a joke, chats about nothing in particular, or gets useful by giving specific information, setting reminders and timers and serving up the news. You can ask it to give you news about a chosen topic each day at a set time, for example. When asked for something that needs a search result, it will give a result or two but after that requires the user to get on Google Search in any case, making many wonder why the chatbot isn't an enhancement on the Google page instead of being part of a messenger app.

Allo isn't anywhere near perfect. The chat with the virtual assistant is often amusing but not always useful. The assistant is supposed to learn as it goes along, noting its interaction with users. And this is what truly worries whistleblower Edward Snowden who is warning people not to download and use Allo, saying that messages are being saved and can be shared with authorities such as the government or the police if requested.

Privacy experts are also worried — not that Google has a shortage of information on users even now. Others see it as inevitable that Google should be making use of chat messages because this is needed for artificial intelligence to grow on the app. The virtual assistant is eventually to go beyond the Allo app into other services.

You can try out Allo on Android or the Apple App Store.





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