Sunday, June 24 , 2018, 12:58 am | Overcast 64º


Peter Funt: Hey, Google’s My New Bud, But Is That the Right Answer?

I’m drinking morning coffee and exchanging pleasantries with the omnipotent Google Home device that arrived as a gift and was given a place near our kitchen table.

Google has designed this coffee-can shaped digital assistant so that it can only be addressed with the words “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google.”

Me: “Hey, Google. How do you spell omnipotent?” It (she?): “Omnipotent is spelled o-m-n-i-p-o-t-e-n-t.” Me: “Hey, Google. When is the Warriors’ next game?” It: “The Golden State Warriors will be playing the Toronto Rappers Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.”

“Hey, Google. Hay is for horses.”

Ha. Just kidding. That’s how my mom used to remind us that it’s not polite to say “hey.” I might add that mom knew how to spell omnipotent and, on balance, seemed to get along fine without guidance from inanimate objects — although she was prone to criticizing them, as in: “That darn toaster is taking too long!”

Google Home competes with Amazon’s Echo, which for nearly two years has been the hottest thing on the planet. It answers to “Alexa.”

“Hey, Google. Do you know someone named Alexa?”

“Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that, but I’m still learning.”

“Hey, Google. Do you know Siri?”

“She has a nice name.”

Since I’m writing this on my iPad, I thought I’d ask Siri, “What do you know about Google Home?”

Siri: “I found this on the Internet: Home, a 2015 film. An alien on the run makes friends with a girl.”

Seems these devices are still easily confused. Yet, for some people the lonely days of waiting to hear, “You’ve got mail,” have been replaced by the semblance of conversation with an entity that knows how many miles it is to the nearest pizza place, can convert dollars to yen, and has a Silicon Valley sense of humor.

“Hey, Google. Tell me a joke.”

“Who designed King Arthur’s Round Table? Sir Cumference.”

Back in the 1980s our family had a Chrysler station wagon with limited vocabulary and laughably halting pronunciation. We’d jump in and the car would declare: “A ... door ... is ... a ... jar.” That made us laugh, and it prompted my sister to quip, “I always thought a door was a fork.”

Nowadays I can barely make it out of the driveway without audio cues from GPS. My alarm clock volunteers the temperature, and the moving sidewalk warns when it’s coming to an end.

What’s next? Bob, the talking toothbrush (“Don’t forget to scrub your tongue”). Hank, the grouchy lawnmower (“Gotta do something about that crabgrass”). Marge, the nagging refrigerator (“Save some of that apple pie for tomorrow, big guy”).

I think Google might have erred by not giving its gadget a name. Product reinforcement is one thing, but it becomes a real pain after you’ve said “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google” several dozen times.

We humans assign anthropomorphisms to many things in our lives-from pets to potted plants. Heck, the first thing Tom Hanks did when he was stuck on an island was name his soccer ball Wilson.

As for conversing with inanimate objects, we’ve come a long way. In 1949, when my dad, Allen Funt, hid a speaker in a mailbox in Manhattan so it could “talk" to passersby, folks were aghast. Even after settling in to conversation, not a single person asked the mailbox for the high temperature in Philadelphia, or to play a tune by Perry Como.

Nowadays young people think nothing of chatting with the machines in their lives. I suspect, however, that many of them wouldn’t know what to make of a mailbox.

Peter Funt is a writer, speaker and author of the book, Cautiously Optimistic. He is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons and can be contacted at Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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