Nothing smart about Alexa, Google Home, and Echo Dot

January 28th, 2018

In this era of total surveillance and big data, the marketing geniuses at the world's largest tech companies tell us that real A.I. has arrived.

A.I. is supposed to mean intelligence, artificial or otherwise. It is true that, in the world of serious power computing, there are "learning systems" that are developing powerful sources of "knowledge" and exhibit problem solving skills?

The venerable IBM, or the core of that company, is betting the bank on its Watson A.I. system, as applied to banking, health care, and many business domains. And, perhaps Watson knows something we don't.

For the rest of us, we're told that Amazon's Echo Dot devices, Google's Home products, as well as our "smart" watches, vehicles, and myriad other devices possess genuine A.I.

One player in the market that remains unimpressed is Apple, the company ironically well known for buying and developing their own integrated Siri. Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, explained that in the company's eyes these are merely "smart speakers." They are wirelessly connected to their manufacturer's powerful computing facilities around the world for rapid analysis of your spoken requests, but they are still returning rudimentary "canned" responses. Simply put, there is no intelligence here.

Consider a typical round of dialogue with PCPC's in-house Alexa, and Google Home devices:

The Alexa Test:

Human: Alexa, what's the weather today?

Alexa: In the Bronx, it is 44 degrees and foggy. There will be clouds this evening.

Human: When will it become cloudy?

Alexa: Repeats the same answer as above.

Human: Alexa, don't tell me the weather again.

Human: Alexa, when will the fog end?

Alexa: I don't know that one.

The Google Home Test:

Human: Hey Google, what's the weather in the Bronx.

Google: (Provided a forecast for tomorrow.)

...So, we try again.

Human: Hey Google, what's the weather in the Bronx this evening.

Google: It is 41 degrees and cloudy.

Human: Is it Foggy in the Bronx this evening.

Google: Repeats the forecast again.

...We tried asking another meteorological question.

Human : Hey Google, what is the barometric pressure in the Bronx this evening.

Google: My apologies, I don't understand.

Human: Hey Google - OK, what is barometric pressure?

Google: Barometric pressure is another term for Atmospheric pressure.

Human: Hey Google, what is the atmospheric pressure in the Bronx this evening?

Google: Sorry, I don't know how to help with that yet.

Definitely artificial. A long way from intelligence or active learning systems.

No wonder Apple is holding back. As Tim Cook said, Apple is never first to market with any type of device, from the iPod to the Apple Watch – others came first. Apple waits 'til "we can make something excellent."

They will be waiting a long time!