Google recently announced the roll-out of its AI powered ‘Assistant’ to devices running Android Marshmallow (6.0) and Nougat (7.0). Hitherto available only to Google Pixel owners, the intelligent personal assistant will replace the Google Now feature on newer Android devices after the requisite update. Other Android users can still use Assistant, albeit with severely limited functionality, through the Google Allo chat app.
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The Google Assistant, which is a bit like Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Amazon's Alexa, makes use of advanced deep learning algorithms to purportedly be more intelligent than any of its rivals.
How do you use it and what can it do?
Google Assistant can be operated through voice or text inputs. Saying ‘OK Google’ or long-pressing the home button activates the AI companion and enables either a voice-based or text-based conversation. Typing ‘@google’ while texting through the Allo app also activates Assistant which can then be used to make, and share, in-chat searches.
You can use issue commands on Assistant to take certain actions on your smartphone (find an email, set a reminder, reply to a message, and so on), control Nest smarthome devices, and operate the Google Home device. It can also be used to manage your to-do list, create shopping lists, and modify payment methods.
Using third-party apps like Uber also becomes easier with Google Assistant. You can book a cab with a few short text messages; it will remember which one you ordered last time and ask if that's the one you want again.
Since Google is the undisputed king of search engines, Assistant's search capabilities are unparalleled. From movie timings to sports scores to flight details, everything is available in an instant. And while that was always the case with Google, now you can access this information through a conversational interface that makes use of your previous interactions for context.
How is it different from Google Now?
Google Assistant is starkly different from Google Now for one major reason: While the latter is a simple search tool, its successor is an intelligent piece of conversational software. Users can talk to the AI entity as they would to a person and they will receive answers in a similar manner.
For example, asking Assistant a question like “Do I need an umbrella tomorrow?” will yield a reply like “Yes, you can expect rain in [xyz] city tomorrow” accompanied by a small card bearing the weather forecast.
Screen Context is another useful feature of Assistant; activating the software while you're browsing specific content on your phone results in Google displaying relevant information about whatever is currently on your screen.
Assistant is entrenched in Google’s stellar machine learning platform and as such the software constantly remembers and recalls the information it is fed by users. Personal details you shared with it in earlier chats will be used to make its conversations and suggestions more relevant in the current context.
Also read: Battle of the AIs — Siri vs Google Assistant
Google Now, by contrast, is a simple voice-activated search engine. Sure, it has a few operational capabilities that allow you some control over your phone's functions, but you never really converse with it. On the other hand, Google Assistant not only offers more functionality, but it also constantly learns from its interactions. The more a person uses Assistant, the more it learns about them; and when it comes to doing that, Google's AI companion may just be the best one available today.