April 24, 2024

Amazon’s blunders with Alexa could lead Google astray, says a former manager who worked on the Google Assistant. Google engineers have spent years experimenting with its assistant to mimic Alexa’s capabilities, including designing smart speakers and voice-controlled tablet screens to control home accessories like thermostats and light switches. The company later integrated advertising into these home products, but that didn’t become a major source of revenue.

Over time, Google realized that most people only use the voice assistant for a limited number of simple tasks, such as starting timers and playing music, the former manager said. When Google executive Prabhakar Raghavan took over the Google Assistant in 2020, his team repositioned the virtual companion as a key feature for Android smartphones.

In January, when Google’s parent company laid off 12,000 employees, the operating system team for home devices lost 16% of its engineers.

Many big tech companies are now racing to come up with a response to ChatGPT. At Apple headquarters last month, the company held its annual AI summit, an internal event to educate employees about its large-scale language models and other artificial intelligence tools, two people familiar with the plan said. A number of engineers, including members of the Siri team, are testing the language-generation concept on a weekly basis, the people said.

Tuesday, Google also says It will soon release generative AI tools to help businesses, governments and software developers build applications with embedded chatbots and integrate the underlying technology into their systems.

Artificial intelligence experts say that the technologies of chatbots and voice assistants will converge in the future. That means people will be able to control chatbots with their voice, and those using Apple, Amazon and Google products will be able to ask virtual assistants to help them with jobs beyond tasks like checking the weather.

“These products have never been used in the past because we never had human-level conversational capabilities,” said Aravind Srinivas, founder of Perplexity, an artificial intelligence startup that provides a chatbot-powered search engine. “Now we do.”

Cade Metz Contribution report.

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