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AI in Voice Assistants: I’m not impressed

Posted by jpluimers on 2017/10/06

I started thinking about writing this post way before [WayBack] When +Google Assistant gets a mind of their own… – Jeroen Wiert Pluimers – Google+.

Though I’ll focus on Google Assistant, the competition (Alexa, Cortana, Siri) have about the same level of incompetence.

Though living in The Netherlands, I use the English version of Google Assistant as it won’t be available in the foreseeable future: [WayBack] Google Assistant in het Nederlands voorlopig toekomstmuziek.

This means that I cannot use Dutch words for destinations, but find English ones.

  • This fails: navigate to Schiphol trainstation
  • This works: navigate to Amsterdam Airport Arrivals

The odd thing is that after switching phones, the latter wants to perform this navigation by public traffic, whereas my former phone it would default to navigation for driving by car.

Basically the only interactions that work sort of OK are calling persons and navigating to places.


  • what's my next appointment succeeds
  • what's my current appointment (in case you are late, for instance because of traffic conditions) fails

Calling persons

This allows for aliases to persons like my wife, my brother and my mother. But often it:

  • forgets about an alias asking who that alias is for
  • asks for confirmation of an alias
  • totally misses the alias (so when asking to call my wife mobile, it sometimes presents search results, for instance on “How to spy on my wife’s calls tracking for free”)

After defining these aliases, these actions usually work OK:

  • call my brother mobile
  • call my mother at home

Navigation to places

Contrary to calling, where you can define many aliases, you can only define 2 navigation aliases: home and work. Which means these all fail:

  • navigate to my brother at work
  • navigate to my mother at home

Heck, even the simple variations fail:

  • navigate to my brother
  • navigate to my mother

A cool feature would be navigate to my next appointment, but that fails too. No surprise though, as the simpler navigation commands fail.

The best way I found to navigate is to – just before you leave – search on Google Maps in your browser for the route, then open Navigation on your phone (this presumes they use the same account).

Also, since switching phones, I have to indicate how I want to navigate:

  • navigate home by car
  • navigate to Amsterdam Airport Arrivals by car

Stuff that hardly works

Starting applications is a pain.

Examples that work

  • start pokemon go

These work unreliably:

  • start navigation sometimes opens the map, but at other times asks where to navigate to

These fail at all:

  • start dialer (opens a Google search, but fails to start the stock Android Dialer App)
  • start ex-dialer (my dialer of choice: ExDialer)
  • start player FM (fails to locate Player.FM)

Conclusion so far

It is far from intuitive what kinds of phrases will work, sometimes work or will fail.

I could do a search for how to better phrase my requests, but average users won’t

The Google Voice Assistant still has a long way to go to become useable.


2 Responses to “AI in Voice Assistants: I’m not impressed”

  1. jpluimers said

    Related: Roderick Gadellaa posting on G+ [WayBack]:

    Yesterday, I wanted to know which song was used for one of the Pixel announcement videos.

    So I tried Assistant (“Ok google, what am I listening to?”): it failed. Then I tried the regular Google app (tap the search bar on the home screen, tap the mic, say “What am I listening to?”): that worked.

    That’s. Really. Just. What?! Most people will not understand this.

    So this is good! \o/

  2. jpluimers said

    By Wolfram Rittmeyer on G+ [WayBack]:

    This post by +Jeroen Wiert Pluimers reminds me of a rant I started, but haven’t yet completed.

    I so wish, that the level of understanding of voice assistants were better. But, alas, Google has a lot to do. Oh, and I gave up on Alexa right after the first day, so it’s even worse there IMHO.

    Really troublesome is the poor level of context when it comes to music (or questions about books and authors). One big problem is, that artists as well as song and album titles are in all kind of languages. And so Google often doesn’t even recognize titles I have in Google Play Music (and they should know which I have).

    So whenever I say “play XYZ” it should try to either find games with that title, then movies then songs/albums/interprets. And don’t try to do movies, when I have only the audio Chromecast connected. Try to find any audio titles that might match first before telling me, that I have no Chromecast (for video) connected.

    And do that in different languages. And use context when doing so. Google knows that I am German, so please take this into consideration. Even if I try hard to pronouce French or English titles correctly, I’m bound to fail every so often and to use a certain kind of intonation that native speakers never would use. You should have enough samples to adjust for that. So please, do so.

    You think, I’m asking for a lot? Well, maybe. But then again. I don’t think so. If voice assistants are to take off, they have to solve these kind of things. I hope they will do. Actually, I’m sure they will – eventually.

    But, right now, I’m with Jeroen: I’m not impressed either.

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