Wow, Google: Digital Assistant Shows Off at SXSW House

AUSTIN, TX — Sure, I own a Google Home Mini, but my house is nothing like the Google Assistant-enhanced Fun House that rocked my world today. For starters, my home can't make me a damn good margarita if I ask for it.

At SXSW, Google's showing off the potential of its digital assistant with this amazing house, which even extends to its front lawn. Not only do its pink flamingos move on command, but it can water its plants when asked, and they've even got a low-rider that bounces. All you need to say is "OK, Google: bounce."

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It almost boggled my mind watching this home do everything, including dispense a beer, order a pizza, pull down your bedroom blinds when you say you've got a hangover and even use a robotic arm to rearrange a sock drawer.

This comic-level of unrealistic gadgetry — who the hell owns a robotic arm and how do they program it to open a drawer and lift and move socks? — reinforced to me that I should give my own Google Home Mini a second chance, maybe I could finally get it to turn my cable box on properly.

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"OK Google, make margaritas," was all it took for this machine to mix and blend excellent drinks.

The one trick that the Google Fun House has in its favor, though, is that Assistant commands are printed everywhere. For me, and I'm guessing at least some others, learning the correct phrasing is half of the battle.

At a talk earlier in the day, dubbed "Making Technology Adapt to Us" Google's Laura Granka (director of user experience for Google Search and Assistant) and Hector Ouilhet (head of design for Google Search and Assistant) did a deep dive about how we have communicated to our technology over the years.

And while Google Assistant is great at learning natural language, both Granka and Ouilhet noted that translating the intent of the user is one of the hardest parts of what Google does. One story they told involved a father trying to use Google search to find things for his family to do, by searching "activities."

Over time, Google's refined its tools to understand more of what we want and if Assistant is this far along in such a short time (debuting May 2016), who knows where it will go next.

Credit: Henry T. Casey