Why Google Home Will Change the World


Much has recently been written about Google Home, the little vase-like cylinder that started landing in consumers’ hands only a week or so ago. Home’s mandate sounds simple enough in theory — listen to a room for commands or queries, then respond by voice and/or with appropriate actions.

What hasn’t been much discussed however, is how the Home ecosystem is going to change for the better the lives of millions to billions of people over time, in ways that most of us couldn’t even imagine today. It will drastically improve the lives of vast numbers of persons with visual and/or motor impairments, but ultimately will dramatically and positively affect the lives of everyone else as well.

Home isn’t the first device to offer this technology segment — nor is it the least expensive — Amazon came earlier and has a more limited version that is cheaper than Home (and a model more expensive than Home as well).

But while Amazon’s device seems to have been designed with buying stuff on Amazon as its primary functionality, Google’s Home — backed by Google’s enormously more capable corpus of information, accurate speech recognition, and AI capabilities, stands to quickly evolve to far outpace Amazon’s offering along all vectors.

This is a truth even if we leave aside the six-month free subscription to Google’s excellent ad-free “YouTube Red/Google Play Music” — which Google included with my Home shipment here in the USA, knowing that once you’ve tasted the ability to play essentially any music and any YouTube videos at any time just by speaking to the air, you’ll have a difficult time living without it. I’ve had Home for a week and I’m finally listening to great music of all genres again — I know that I’ll be subscribing when my free term to that package runs out.

You can dig around a bit and easily find a multitude of reviews that discuss specifics of what Home does and how you use it, so I’m not going to spend time on that here, other than to note that like much advanced technology that is simple to operate, the devilishly complex hardware and software design aspects won’t be suspected or understood by most users — nor is there typically a need for them to do so.

But what I’d like to ponder here is why this kind of technology is so revolutionary and why it will change our world.

Throughout human history, pretty much any time you wanted information, you had to physically go to it in one way or another. Dig out the scroll. Locate the book. Sit down at the computer. Grab the smartphone.

The Google Home ecosystem is a sea change. It’s fundamentally different in a way that is much more of a giant leap than the incremental steps we usually experience with technology.

Because for the first time in most of our experiences, rather than having to go to the information, the information is all around us, in a remarkably ambient kind of way.

Whether you’re sitting at a desk at noon or in bed sleepless in the middle of the night, you have but to verbally express your query or command, and the answers, the results, are immediately rendered back to you. (Actually, you first speak the “hotword” — currently either “Hey Google” or “OK Google” — followed by your command or query. Home listens locally for the hotword and only sends your following utterance up to Google for analysis when the hotword triggers — which is also indicated by lights on the Home unit itself. There’s also a switch on the back of the device that will disable the microphone completely.)

It’s difficult to really express how different this is from every other technology-based information experience. In a matter of hours of usage, one quickly begins to think of Home as a kind of friendly ethereal entity at your command, utterly passive until invoked. It becomes very natural to use — the rapid speed of adaptation to using Home is perhaps not so remarkable when you consider that speech is the human animal’s primary evolved mode of communications. Speech works with other humans, to some extent with our pets and other animals — and it definitely works with Google Home.

Most of the kinds of commands and queries that you can give to Home can also be given to your smartphone running Google’s services — in fact they both basically access the same underlying “Google Assistant” systems.

But when (for example) information and music are available at any time, at the spur of the moment, for any need or whim — just by speaking wherever you happen to be in a room and no matter the time of day — it’s really an utterly different emotional effect.

And it’s an experience that can easily make one realize that the promised 21st century really has now arrived, even if we still don’t have the flying cars.

The sense of science fiction come to life is palpable.

The Google teams who created this tech have made no secret of the fact that the computers of “Star Trek” have been one of their key inspirations.

There are various even earlier scifi examples as well, such as the so-called “City Fathers” computers in James Blish’s “Cities in Flight” novels. 

It’s obvious how Google Home technology can assist the blind, persons with other visual impairments, and a wide variety of individuals with mobility restrictions.

Home’s utility in the face of simple aging (and let’s face it, we’re all either aging or dead) is also immense. As I noted back in As We Age, Smartphones Don’t Make Us Stupid — They’re Our Saviors, portable information aids can be of great value as we get older.

But Home’s “always available” nature takes this to an entirely new and higher level.

The time will come when new homes will be built with such systems designed directly into their walls, and when people may feel a bit naked in locations where such capabilities are not available. And in fact, in the future this may be the only way that we’ll be able to cope with the flood of new and often complex information that is becoming ever more present in our daily lives.

Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that these systems — as highly capable as they are right now — are only at the bare beginnings of their evolution, an evolution that will reshape the very nature of the relationship between mankind and access to information.

If you’re interested in learning more about all this, you’re invited to join my related Google+ Community which is covering a wide range of associated topics.

Indeed — we really are living in the 21st century!

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!

Google Search Results and Fact Checking

With so many discussions now raging regarding the impacts of misinformation on the Internet — including in relation to the 2016 election — I’m reposting below a blog item of mine from 17 June 2007 — “Extending Google Blacklists for Dispute Resolutions” — that may perhaps still be considered relevant today.

At that time, I was framing this overall issue in terms of disputed search results — I would later propose this kind of framework as a possible alternative to the horrific EU “Right To Be Forgotten” censorship concept.

We now would likely include most of these issues under the broader umbrella of “fact checking” concepts.

Extending Google Blacklists for Dispute Resolutions
(Original posting date: June 17, 2007)

Greetings. In a very recent blog item, I discussed some issues regarding search engine dispute resolution, and posed some questions about the possibility of “dispute links” being displayed with search results to indicate serious disputes regarding the accuracy of particular pages, especially in cases of court-determined defamation and the like.

While many people appear to support this concept in principle, the potential operational logistics are of significant concern. As I originally acknowledged, it’s a complex and tough area, but that doesn’t make it impossible to deal with successfully either.

Some others respondents have taken the view that search engines should never make “value judgments” about the content of sites, other than that done (which is substantial) for result ranking purposes.

What many folks may not realize is that in the case of Google at least, such more in-depth judgments are already being made, and it would not necessarily be a large leap to extend them toward addressing the dispute resolution issues I’ve been discussing.

Google already puts a special tag on sites in their results which Google believes contain damaging code (“malware”) that could disrupt user computers. Such sites are tagged with a notice that “This website may damage your computer.” — and the associated link is not made active (that is, you must enter it manually or copy/paste to access that site — you cannot just click).

Also, in conjunction with Google Toolbar and Firefox 2, Google collects user feedback about suspected phishing sites, and can display warnings to users when they are about to access potentially dangerous sites on these lists.

In both of these cases, Google is making a complex value judgment concerning the veracity of the sites and listings in question, so it appears that this horse has already left the barn — Google apparently does not assert that it is merely a neutral organizer of information in these respects.

So, a site can be tagged by Google as potentially dangerous because it contains suspected malware, or because it has been reported by the community to be an apparent phishing site. It seems reasonable then for a site that has been determined (by a court or other agreed-upon means) to be containing defaming or otherwise seriously disputed information, to also be potentially subject to similar tagging (e.g. with a “dispute link”).

Pages that contain significant, purposely false information, designed to ruin people’s reputations or cause other major harm, can be just as dangerous as phishing or malware sites. They may not be directly damaging to people’s computers, but they can certainly be damaging to people’s lives. And presumably we care about people at least as much as computers, right?

So I would assert that the jump to a Google “dispute links” mechanism is nowhere near as big a leap from existing search engine results as it may first appear to be.

In future discussion on this topic, I’ll get into more details of specific methodologies that could be applicable to the implementation of such a dispute handling system, based both within the traditional legal structure and through more of a “Web 2.0” community-based topology.

But I wanted to note now that while such a search engine dispute resolution environment could have dramatic positive effects, it is fundamentally an evolutionary concept, not so much a revolutionary one.

More later. Thanks as always.

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–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!

Why Google Tops Trump’s Technology Enemies List

As something of a student of the great Chinese general Sun Tzu, who lived between around 544 BC and 496 BC, I have long agreed with one of the most famous statements attributed to him: 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

With that truism in mind, I have throughout the last few months of the 2016 election season kept channels of communications open with persons directly knowledgeable of soon to be President Trump’s handlers views on technology policy.

We know that Trump himself is a dilapidated dunce bending in whatever direction the current breezes seem to blow from minute to minute. But the advisers holding his leash — who will ultimately set the policy objectives for this senile swine (no offense meant to actual hogs or pigs!), have very definite views that they intend to push into Trump’s orbit. For all practical purposes, we can expect these to fill the empty vessel of Trump’s skull and become essentially his own.

The laundry list of attacks that they have planned is long and diverse, and is essentially a war against all manner of science, technology, and anybody supporting scientific concepts that conflict with the world view of garden-variety racist, sexual abusing criminals like Trump himself.

Clues about various of these have already been dropped publicly, mostly by Trump’s minions, but occasionally buried within the incoherent rambling rants of Trump himself, which provide for useful verification. 

Pretty much at top of Trump’s technology-related enemies list is Google. The Trump team despises Google with a ferocious antipathy.

Google represents pretty much everything that Trump and his team hates: Information that Trump and his associates can’t control. Intelligent, largely liberal-leaning employees for whom facts and data are not overridden by political exigencies of the moment. Privacy and security teams who won’t bend over and grab their ankles whenever anyone in the government simply says “jump” without appropriate legal authority. And so on.

Trump’s people have a plan to reign in Google. They’ll be going after other service providers as well, but Google would be their biggest prize by far.

The Trump team’s plan to control Google will be on several fronts.

With the assistance of a cooperative GOP Congress and a Supreme Court that will soon have at least one and perhaps three or more right-wing Trump appointees, Trump’s crew will be pressing hard for rules that ban end-to-end encryption, using the usual national security excuse as the main argument, while sweeping aside all “this actually makes us less safe” arguments.

This push will also include the ability for the government to have essentially “on demand” access to any or all server data at Google (and all other significant web firms), based on the models provided by Trump’s master Putin, and to some extent also the Chinese.

Trump has also become incensed at Google search results that don’t toe the line to his own demented and twisted worldview, and intends to push legislation that would permit for government control over search results in a wide variety of circumstances, in this instance using national security, law enforcement, copyright claims, and “save the children” arguments.

The Trump team feels that these efforts will dovetail nicely with broader free speech controls that they plan to aim at mass media, particularly news outlets — there is also talk of attempting to impose horrific EU-style “Right To Be Forgotten” laws here in the U.S. — using this aspect in particular to try suck Google haters over to Trump’s side for the broader legislative efforts.

And if all of this sounds like some sort of fantasy on the Trump side — couldn’t happen with the First Amendment in their way! — think again!

Other than the Second Amendment, the Trumpians are at the best indifferent to most aspects of the Constitution in general or the Bill of Rights in particular.

They believe that they can forge coalitions that will enable them to decimate the First Amendment, leveraging their control over all three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial. They believe that their Deplorables — their voters — will cheer Trump on in his efforts to decimate Google, eliminate what Trump and company feel are “undesirable freedoms” aspects of the Internet, and in general impose a speech regime as close to Putin’s model as possible.

But Trump isn’t president quite yet. We still have a bit of time to work with, and there are some approaches that can limit the damage that Trump can do, at least to various extents.

Some of these we will be discussing on my new Saving Science & Tech from Trump Google+ community.

Some discussions will by necessity need to be more private.

One thing’s pretty much certain, however. Donald Trump and his administration hope to roll back the USA effectively to somewhere around 1950 in terms of color, creed, and knowledge. 

If we don’t wish to see the technological works of our lifetimes similarly decimated, we must take action immediately.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!

We Stopped Herr Hitler — Now We Must Stop Something Potentially Far Worse: President Trump

G+ Community: Saving Science & Tech from Trump

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As I write these words late in the evening of 8 November 2016, Donald Trump has become the president-elect of the United States.

In 1933, a man named Adolf Hitler, who by all accounts was far more intelligent, refined, educated, and self-controlled than one Donald J. Trump, was appointed chancellor of Germany, a country that at the time was among the world’s leaders in arts and science. Within a few years, he dragged Germany into a maelstrom of racism, death, and horror, with few German fingers raised to stop him.

Luckily, though he was on the path to do so, Hitler never obtained operational nuclear weapons. Nor for that matter was he known to brag about committing sexual assault. He was many horrible things, but he was not an ignoramus.

On the other hand, Hitler’s supporters and Trump’s supporters are very much one of a kind, and history teaches clearly that giving any quarter to such monsters is the fastest route to total annihilation.

We will in coming hours and days hear much talk — as did the citizens of 1933 Germany — about “coming together” for the sake of our country.

When it comes to a President Trump, I reject such calls, and I assert that all ethical Americans should do the same.

To “come together” with such an ignorant and lying man and his minions — a man who is a proponent of sexual assault, of torture, of deep-seated racism and antisemitism — a man who mocks the disabled, who doesn’t believe in science, and who encourages mindless violence and restrictions on freedom of speech — is to lend tacit if not active approval to such abominable attitudes and behaviors. This is a binary decision — there is no middle ground. You either accept the evil and join it — or you fight against it body and soul.

There is a long list of villains — some knowing, some “merely” complicit — who have enabled the rise of the ultimate, perverted horror of a President-Elect Trump.

These include (in no particular order and merely to mention a few): FBI Director James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, news organizations like those of CNN and CBS who played crucial roles in Trump’s rise, Bernie Sanders and his followers along with third-party candidates, and yes, we of the Internet and social media, who provided the means for echo chamber exacerbation of racism and fake news to multiply without bounds in the name of profits.

There is no coming together with the likes of a President Trump and his storm troopers, any more than there can be a coming together with a pit full of lethal cobras, spiders, and rabid hyenas.

All legal means must be employed to stop the damage that a President Trump could and would do to this country and the world. This may include both vast civil disobedience and the leveraging of the technology that we control toward limiting the ability of a President Trump and his appointees to destroy what’s great about the United States of America and the rest of this planet.

A hideous monster like a President Trump, combined with a totally GOP-controlled Congress and likely multiple Supreme Court nominations, empowered by USA military and nuclear capabilities, could easily make Hitler’s Reich look like a playground by comparison.

I had hoped — in fact I had already planned and publicly noted — my intentions to move away from political content postings after this election. I realize now that this will be impossible. I apologize for raising your hopes about this unnecessarily.

I am no longer a young man. I do not intend to sit by for the time I have remaining while simply pontificating about the niceties of technology and tech policy while this country is dragged down into a nightmare that would likely even terrify Adolf Hitler himself.

I will be endeavoring to use any and all legal means available — political, technical, and more — to accomplish as effective as possible a figurative “neutering” of a President Trump and all individuals associated with him, to limit the damage that he and his Deplorables can do to this already great nation.

There cannot be “business as usual” in the face of the existential threat represented by Trump.

I welcome you to join me in this effort.

But if you feel that you will be offended or otherwise upset by my use of my various venues and lists for such purposes — which will now likely be escalating dramatically — I urge you to unfollow or unsubscribe from me now.

We are faced with a form of total war. This war must be fought via legal and peaceful means, so long as we ourselves and our fellow Americans are not threatened with illegal actions or violence by a President Trump or his thugs.

Together,  we shall ultimately prevail against the epitome of ignorance and evil that is Donald J. Trump.

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–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
– – –
The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!

Asking Google Home About George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words”

What actually happens when you ask the newly released Google Home Appliance about legendary comedian George Carlin’s famous Seven Words That You Can Never Say on Television? Yeah, let’s give this a try. It turns out that the precise wording of this query seems to be fairly critical. No pun intended. I have not modified the answer in any manner.

UPDATE: The “Google modified” list presented in the audio linked below may apparently only be presented to Google Home Appliance users (even reportedly when filters are disabled), perhaps out of fear that persons in the room might be offended by the “spoken out loud” response. A “pure” list appears to be more routinely presented to users who make the same query by phone (to the same underlying Google Assistant system). Fascinating.

[Sorta NSFW]

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
– – –
The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!