Google Home turns us into lazy royalty but helps medical field

Albert Zhao

Picture, if you will, sitting in the Oval Office on a Friday by the phone. For an easy evening, you press the button and order your personal aide to fetch the car for dinner, the film reel of “Air Force One” and your favorite jar of peanut butter for midnight.

Now examine where you actually are: sitting on a foldable chair in an apartment with likely a distinct odor. However, with a smartphone you can order a personal driver to dinner, search Netflix for “Air Force One” and have Amazon Prime Now replenish your peanut butter supply within hours.

Google further encourages our apartment lethargy with their recent release of Google Home, a speaker powered by intelligent software — called Google Assistant — that listens to commands, responds as conversationally as possible and attempts to do everyday tasks, similar to the Amazon Echo.

Summoned by voice, this device can remind us of our appointments, adjust your thermostat, find well-reviewed restaurants and — nurturing enough — remember your birthday and favorite color.

But this digital butler or Jarvis tempts the user to remain in the pampered sphere of technology use, where multitasking is rife and makes us less efficient. According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, there is a “cognitive cost” every time we leap from one task to the next. 

But beyond allowing our imitations of Tony Stark or holding us hostage on our couches and beds, Google Home, to the contrary, may do some public good — particularly in the medical field.

As first seen with Amazon Echo’s role in a colonoscopy where it obeyed doctor’s commands to take and label pictures, Google Home may help doctors in a similar function, partly due to its software’s ability to understand human speech patterns that allow doctors to quickly communicate orders. This could range from reading a patient’s heart rate out loud to repeating an ER doctor’s diagnosis to awaiting doctors and nurses in the hospital.  A virtual hospital assistant would free medical workers from menial tasks and save their time for more pressing issues with patients.

What’s more revolutionary is that the technology behind Google Home and Amazon Echo is linked to the Cloud, which allows the devices to update constantly for improved function and new abilities in a variety of fields. Though this may seem that the threshold of true artificial intelligence is near, NASA engineer David Batchelor argues that current technology still has a long way to go and noted that “twenty or 30 years ago they were saying artificial intelligence was just around the corner, but it keeps receding into the future.” However, Google plans to further pursue the software behind Google Home for years to come. 

But in the meantime, we, the sloth-prone consumer, may add Google Home to our already heavy kingdoms of convenience. And if you are particularly solipsistic of your power, as I was, you can apparently order Google to tell you that you’re beautiful — which it may respond: “You’re pretty … amazing.”

Zhao is a history and corporate communications junior from Shanghai, China. Follow him on Twitter @_AlbertZhao.