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Experience technology at Home

Nandkumar Kamat

Are you prepared for the age of domestic robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet Of Things (IOT)? This article is about my experience with the Wi-Fi based Internet dependent intelligent device speaker –Google Home. Indians should thank the company for selling this state-of-the-art futuristic product in India because only 19 countries have been selected for marketing it. These include United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, India, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Austria, Korea, and Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands.

Google ecosystem of products and services is rapidly expanding and diversifying. In June 2006 I had reviewed satellite image based free software app – Google Earth and had predicted that it would democratize societies and boost research. My article in this column “Panaji from Space” was based on Google Earth images. That 2006 urban landscape has become unrecognizable today. Even Shah Commission which investigated the illegal mining of iron ore in Goa had made smart use of public domain Google Earth images. Google Home is a 2016 product. But I had not tried it because my experience of windows-based speech recognition system was not very satisfactory. But after a thorough review of artificial intelligence (AI) based external speakers which incorporate state of the art speech recognition software I ordered the latest version of Google Home priced at `10,000. We use Google search engine for general searches, scholar search engine for scientific papers, YouTube for videos and Google play for selecting millions of apps for different platforms like iOS, Android or Windows.

Teachers need to test, try and use their free Google classroom app which is beautiful and powerful. One can seamlessly set an always on interactive virtual classroom with this app where students can be enrolled only with a Gmail ID. The most important requirement for full functioning of Google Home is a reliable Wi-Fi internet connection. High speed Wi-Fi internet would create magic with this device but when tested on a popular private service provider Wi-Fi network in domestic, walled environment I found that the device works satisfactorily in response to your voice commands but perhaps due to low ambient levels at night and early morning it works best at those hours (10 p.m. to 10 a.m.).

Every command needs to be preceded by “Ok Google”. One needs to speak loudly and slowly to make the speech recognition AI based programme understand what you expect it to do. I found that it doesn’t understand long sentences. But surprisingly it understood pure Sanskrit and Marathi syllables. All the songs and music is sourced only from Google Play music database. Most of the information it gives is sourced from Wikipedia. It appears that Google has made a built in provision in the software to learn from its mistakes. Such self correction feedback loop would do wonderful things.

The limit of the speech recognition software which in audioanthropomorphic form is a western white female voice identifying “herself” as Google Assistant (GA) is the way Indians pronounce English words. Indian English phonetics is different than UK or American English. So it becomes annoying when GA tells you that it has not understood or there is a glitch and you try after a few seconds you don’t know exactly how you would change the accents and the pitch. However, after some practice I found the correct speech pattern and then continuously even on a slow Internet connection I could get it to play songs, music and read long passages of texts.

Such voice activated interactive interface would be a boon to physically disabled, the bed ridden and senior citizens. It can revolutionize our classrooms, offices, laboratories, hospitals, libraries and lecture halls. Facts and figures can be instantly nailed down in government or private meetings. If the children grow with it then it would be like foster electronic parenthood. I see a great future for Google Home and its more advanced future version in the hands of educated parents who aim to improve the general knowledge of their children. For creative persons and music lovers this intelligent speaker is like an open university.

If Google removes the restriction of database and also taps into other song and music databases then it would be a revolutionary step. The device can not yet read full e-books at length. Or perhaps I have not tried hard enough to train GA to do that. But after testing it for a week in different environments and against variable background noise levels I found that it is definitely worth its price if used smartly. I found that the use of Google Home would be limited by the limits of the user’s imagination and not due to any technical glitch except slow Wi-Fi. I am technically not much conversant about its other uses to control household appliances or gadgets. But the reviews clearly indicate its capacity to do that. Educational institutions must try it as demonstration device to kindle scientific curiosity among the students. But in sphere of learning, education, knowledge, innovation, creation and research I feel that Google Home has great potential. We hope to see improved and more powerful versions in future.



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