Last year we reported that Google was working on a virtual assistant for Android in response to Apple’s Siri. Later we learned that the project was codenamed Majel when one of our sources told us it was already in testing and a possible launch was imminent. For months no new details were leaked until this week when Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch reported that the service will now be called Assistant.
According to an unnamed source, Tsotsis says the project is being led by the Android team along with the help of search engineer Amit Singhal. If you have been following our Majel coverage, that is the same Singhal that said, "My dream has always been to build the Star Trek computer."
Google's own Matias Duarte previously discussed how their approach was different than Apple's. Duarte said, "The metaphor I like to take is – if it’s Star Wars, you have these robot personalities like C-3PO who runs around and he tries to do stuff for you, messes up and makes jokes, he’s kind of a comic relief guy. Our approach is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It’s not that there’s a personality, it doesn’t have a name, it’s just 'Computer'."
Tsotsis' source says Google's Assistant has three parts which include:
- Get the world’s knowledge into a format a computer can understand.
- Create a personalization layer — Experiments like Google +1 and Google+ are Google’s way of gathering data on precisely how people interact with content.
- Build a mobile, voice-centered “Do engine” (‘Assistant’) that’s less about returning search results and more about accomplishing real-life goals.
Singhal described one of these "do engine" scenarios by saying, "I would be able to walk up to a computer, and say, ‘Hey, what is the best time for me to sow seeds in India, given that monsoon was early this year?’ And once we can answer that question (which we don’t today), people will be looking for answers to even more complex questions. These are all genuine information needs. Genuine questions that if we – Google – can answer, our users will become more knowledgeable and they will be more satisfied in their quest for knowledge."
Clearly our prediction that Majel would launch last year was wrong, as this project has morphed from a natural language voice search into something much more ambitious. Tsotsis now reports that Google hopes to unveil Assistant by Q4 of 2012. There is still a possibility that Assistant could be rolled out in smaller pieces, but it now sounds like it will become a core feature of a major release of Android.
What types of tasks would you hope Google Assistant could accomplish?