AI Home Assistants, should you get one?


If you can’t get a real person to help you, get an artificial one

Let’s start with one thing.  The new AI that has been put into a little speaker by Google and Amazon, and to a lesser extent Siri and Cortana, are not really AI.  Not in the traditional sense of what an AI is.

These aren’t the JARVIS system from Iron Man, but they come close.

What these are is something else.  They really are just a smart collection of programming that can understand natural language searches and can relay those results back to you quickly.  This is really just a good parlor trick.  These devices cannot really think on their own or make choices based on how you talk to them.  Also how you interact with them is different.  There are certain keywords and phrases that one might understand and the other doesn’t.

There are examples that if you connect these devices to your smart home that Alexa doesn’t understand that lamp and light are the same things.  For example.  If you name a light “Desk Lamp” and then say Alexa, turn on the desk light, it won’t do anything.  Google Home, on the other hand, has the contextual programming to understand that light and lamp are synonymous.

These devices promise to make your life a little bit easier.  They can do simple things like order an Uber or put reminders and appointments in your calendar, all without needing for you to type into your phone or computer.  Alexa and Google Home can both do simple tasks like start a timer or play your music (Google Play music or Amazon Prime Music)

An intro to Amazon Echo and Alexa

An intro to Google Home

So what else can they do?

Google Home and Alexa are both capable of running stuff in your house, via apps and “Smart Home” devices.  Items like the Phillips Hue connected light system.

Amazon AlexaAmazon Echo DotsAlexa does this by learning “skills” which are basically apps you can get for your Alexa.  Google Home is constantly updated behind the scenes by Google.

If you purchase the Echo Dots along with the Alexa system, you can plug them into (or connect with Bluetooth) to speakers in your house and bring Alexa to every room.

Google Home integrates with Chromecast really well.  You can connect it so you can turn on your TV and play YouTube videos, as an example.

If you do field multiple Google Home devices, or the Amazon Alexa/Echo Dots they are smart enough that only the one closest to you will answer your questions.Google Home

Both devices also have microphone mute, so it’s always on listening can go deaf should you need it.  Alexa is known to record everything it hears to the cloud.  That way it is more responsive to the things you ask it more often.  You can go into the app and delete the record if you need.

Which one is “better”

Alexa has also been out longer so there is much more support out there on the internet for it, should you have a problem or want to know what it can do.

If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber then Alexa is the no-brainer choice.  It is made by and for Amazon.  It will perfectly integrate into the Amazon Services you already use.  Plus, if you are struck with the idea to order something, just tell Alexa, wait two days.  Boom, at your house.  Cool, right?

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Google Home is the newcomer but brings the power of Google’s search engine behind it.  It can look up and bring information to you quickly.  If you are already integrated into Google’s ecosystem, Gmail, Google+, Google Drive, Play music etc.  Then you will have a lot more options at your vocal command.

Bottom Line

Will these devices change your life? Well, no.  Can they make how you search the internet and get information a little easier and better? Probably.  Are there security and privacy concerns?  Oh yes.

If you are comfortable with a device in your house, constantly listening to everything you say, then go ahead and get one.  If your tinfoil hat is a little tight, then you might want to pass this up.

These devices will only get better.  I imagine that these will make my house more like the bridge of the Enterprise, where I can ask the “computer” questions and get back an answer.

I am looking forward to getting to try these out in my own house.  I will post here when that happens.

Do you have one and use it at home?  Tell me about your experience in the comments.  Also, sign up for our email list and get Average Tech Guy delivered to your inbox.



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    Great post Mike! I’ve been looking at Echo and thought it might be fun to have one. Need to consider the privacy factor though. 🙂

    • Amazon does allow you do see what Alexa is recording and lets you delete anything that you might not want going to the cloud. These are tricky, it implies a level of trust with the hosting company, either Amazon or Google, will protect your information and not use it for “nefarious” purposes.

    • Glad you like it. The privacy piece is something to consider. But to be fair, if you have a smartphone you are already being tracked. You have to balance the convenience and the privacy factor of it all. If you don’t let these home devices “learn” from you, they will never get better.

  • Smartin19010

    Hey Mike! My 6 year old son and I visited friends in Wisconsin recently and they had Alexa. My son and Alexa got quite acquainted with one another and he just loved asking her questions, playing music and turning on and off the lights. It was pretty cool. I literally look up the weather practically everyday. It would be nice to be able to ask about the weather without actually pulling my phone or laptop out. Great post! I think I will look into getting one of these.

    • My kids like asking “her” to tell a joke. My son is also 6 and he thinks these things are great. I think we will probably end up with Alexa also since my wife is way deep in Amazon stuff. She has wanted one since they came out. Might dip my toes in with the Amazon Echo dot. Glad you liked the article!