How Google turns your kids into little Google borgs

Commentary: Unlike all the other companies' assistants, Google's doesn't have a name. The result? Constant chanting of the company name.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Opens I/O Developer Conference

OK, Google. OK. I give in.

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It had been bothering me for a while, but in that way that I couldn't quite articulate.

Something simply felt not right.

I was spurred on, though, by Google's SVP of hardware Rick Osterloh.

In an interview with Recode's Kara Swisher and the Verge's Lauren Goode published on Friday, he explained that the company believes no hardware product is worth developing unless it has AI at its heart. He believes that Google is different from Apple because "we come from opposite heritages."

That's true, a grizzled mind might think. Apple was always about the human condition. Google was always about the machine condition.

Still, it's clear that Google's AI assistant is better than Apple's Siri. But there continued to be an aspect that gnawed at me like a discombobulated hungry penguin.

And then I thought back to two weeks ago.

It was during Google's event, in which it displayed its new Pixel 2 phones, its family-friendly surveillance camera and its new Home devices.

In the 37th minute, the company presented a video showing how its assistant was now very clever at understanding kids' voices.

And there it was.

A bunch of kids saying "OK Google." Over and over and over again.

I'd never stopped to think about it sufficiently. This was, indeed, the ultimate corporate chant.

You might think this merely the future. However, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa and even Samsung's Bixby have their own names and their own personalities.

They may or may not be so clever, but at least you feel as if you're talking to a someone.

With Google, you're talking to the Moloch. 

Kids will -- if the company has its way -- grow up to utter a company name, as if they have some sort of personal relationship with one of the biggest corporations in the world.

Please imagine how it would feel if you had grown up saying "OK, Exxon." You might just have been sent for corrective treatment.

You might insist that the word "Google" is different. After all, we talk about Googling something, as if it's the proper word for online search.

You might also point out that many little kids already believe iPad is one of their best friends. 

Yet what sort of world will it be when kids are uttering the word "Google" as much as they're uttering "Mom," "Dad," and "I want"?

It was a deliberate decision by Google not to name its assistant. The idea, as Jonathan Jarvis, a former creative director on Google's Labs team, told Business Insider last year was that Google's assistant should make you feel like Wonder Person.

"It was more like a superpower that you had and a tool that you used. If you create this personified assistant, that feels like a different relationship," he said.

Yes, it does. A human relationship. Not one in which a human is uttering a company's name to distraction.

I got a slightly different explanation from Google this weekend.

"As we've said from the start, we're calling this your Google Assistant because we fundamentally think of it as an extension and evolution of Google itself," a spokeswoman told me.

Ah, so Google the corporation really does want to be in every part of your life? It really does want kids to chant the company name all the time?

"Google has been providing assistance to users for many years across many products," the spokeswoman told me. "But thanks to the progress in natural language processing, machine learning and other core capabilities, we're at a point where we believe we can create an assistant that's helpful, smart and made just for you."

But it seems to involve you invoking the company name every minute, as if you wanted to constantly express your gratitude.

The -- intended or not -- consequence of Google's AI strategy is that humans will be uttering the word "Google" without cessation.

Do you want your kids to be Google borgs? Or will we have to send the porgs in to save them?

From gurgle, gurgle, gurgle to Google, Google, Google. That's progress.