“Hey Google, Arbab!” I utter these lines to Google Assistant, which automatically takes me to my Twitter DMs with my friend Arbab. That chain of actions happens because I customized one such shortcut for Google Assistant on my phone. Putting the same prompt before ChatGPT, I get the predictably disappointing response: “I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I do not have access to personal contact information such as phone numbers or email addresses.”
That’s just one of the dozen walls that you will run into if you seek to embrace ChatGPT while simultaneously ditching mainstream options like Google Assistant. One wonders why ChatGPT – considered by evangelists as the pinnacle of a consumer-facing AI in 2023 – fails miserably at something as fundamental as sending a message.
2023 is being hawked as the year AI changes everything. From dramatic work shifts and job losses to copyright battles galore and how an average person searches the internet. It sounds a bit like the crypto grift, but unlike tokens generated out of thin air, the AI wave has actually made a tangible difference in our internet-linked lives. The best example of this AI revolution is ChatGPT.
But away from the AI hype universe and into the domain of real-world utility, ChatGPT is still no match for the three most widely used AI assistants — Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. Below are a few broad scenarios where your “boring” AI assistant is still leaps and bounds ahead of OpenAI’s pathbreaking AI innovation.
Ease of access and unmatched versatility
Before we get to the nitty-gritty in terms of capabilities and limitations, let’s start with the most fundamental requisite: ease of access. You can summon Google Assistant right on the lock screen of your phone. Of course, you need to enable the feature manually, but once you’ve set it up, it’s all a walk in the park. Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri also offer the same convenience.
All you need is to utter the right voice command, and the AI assistant will do the bidding. ChatGPT, on the other hand, doesn’t offer the lock screen access convenience. That’s primarily because OpenAI doesn’t offer any dedicated ChatGPT app. You will have to access it by firing up a browser app installed on your phone and then visiting the ChatGPT page.
The best you can do is open Safari, visit the ChatGPT website, and create a shortcut for it for the Home Screen. Another alternative is to create a Siri automation shortcut for ChatGPT, but you still have to unlock your iPhone for the command chain to kick into action and take you to the ChatGPT conversation page in a browser of your choice. For a tech innovation that is touted to revolutionize our digital lives, that’s a heck load of effort from the get-go.
Ask Siri about nearby cafes, and it will pull up a map view with cafes dotted all around your current location. The AI assistant will place a call on your behalf, and if you happen to use Google’s AI assistant, it will screen incoming calls for you. Google will even let you save a transcript of all your Assistant conversations. It can read text contents on a web page for you, start playing a song or TV show on a streaming service of your choice, or just crack a lame joke to break the monotony of the moment.
Assistant flexes control beyond just a phone
ChatGPT has the entire world’s knowledge at its disposal, yet, it can’t do meaningful stuff natively on your phone. Of course, ChatGPT can write your assignment for you, whip up a terrific resume, and even help with your code. But those aren’t things you do every day. ChatGPT can’t pull up your meeting calendar for the next day, switch off the bedroom light, or call your friend on an app of your choice.
Siri can. And so can Google Assistant. Or Alexa. For better or worse, our lives are still very much reliant on our phones and the apps installed on them. Siri can call your best bud with a one-liner voice command, and Google Assistant can open your WhatsApp chat with a few words, irrespective of your language or accent.
With a voice command, you can summon any app installed on your phone, from payments and social media to a calendar or ticket booking. The true superpower of these AI assistants is that they talk to material stored on your phone while also touching the endless web of information on the internet.
ChatGPT can only serve as a bridge between you and the internet, but it can’t interact with any app or file stored on your phone. And that means it is cut off entirely from your digital life and all the connected devices in your home, office, and even vehicles. For example, I can tell Google Assistant to play music on a speaker placed in the drawing room of my house. ChatGPT doesn’t interact with any device at all!
Easing lives, one shortcut at a time
Assistants might sound dumb because they don’t give you the kind of verbose responses that the likes of ChatGPT and Google’s Bard can surprise you with. But that’s only convenient to a certain extent. When it comes to getting real work done, these on-device assistants race miles ahead of ChatGPT. One immensely potent tool, in particular, is the assistants’ ability to allow shortcuts, from single-step tasks like opening your Instagram feed to executing multi-step commands.
Let’s start with Google Assistant, which offers something called Routines. By default, the Google Assistant app already has you covered with the six most commonly encountered scenarios where you could use task automation in order to make your life more streamlined. You get Routines for bedtime, commuting to home or work, morning, chilling at home, and leaving the confines of your house.
Take, for example, the preset routine called “commuting to work.” As soon as you utter the specified voice command, “Let’s go to work,” Google Assistant will trigger four actions for you. It will start by telling you the traffic status between your home and office, followed by narrating the weather information, reading the calendar entries for the day ahead, and then playing some music as you ride the tube or your car. You can, of course, customize every bit of it, such as playing a certain playlist, artist, or genre of music.
Taking things to a more granular level, you have Shortcuts, which basically cut short a task requiring multiple on-screen taps down to a single voice command.
For example, a command like “Hey Google, book an Uber” will launch the Uber app and land you on the page where you only have to enter your destination in order to hail a ride. If you prefer Siri, Apple’s assistant offers you more versatility and an even higher level of command control with multi-step routines and support for every single app installed on your iPhone.
ChatGPT is history, but assistants are real-time
“I don’t have real-time information on the results of IPL matches or any other live events,” reads the ChatGPT response when I ask it about the winner of an IPL cricket match from last night. Google Assistant gave me just the information I wanted. It even went a step further and pulled some neat highlight videos from last night’s match. Now, how convenient is that?
The biggest difference – and one that can make or break the deal for many users, including me — is that ChatGPT only produces information as recent as 2021. That’s partly because the data used to train OpenAI’s chatty natural language model only dates as far back as 2021 in the past and partly because it has been coded to avoid commentating on current events to steer clear of any bias.
That’s an extremely inconvenient limitation that drastically reduces the practical utility of ChatGPT in day-to-day life. The likes of Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa co-exist with the internet as it evolves with each passing second, adding more information to its bank. From weather and real-time traffic details to sports scores and something as critically important as emergency alerts, it’s these assistants will come to your rescue — not ChatGPT.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Google, in particular, has beautifully integrated its assistant with all the information available courtesy of its Search engine. Finding great deals on products, or hotel tickets, is a breeze and just a single sentence away. Alexa, on the other hand, will add any product you need straight to your Amazon cart. ChatGPT is straight-up terrible with your shopping or vacation planning needs and will only offer wordy suggestions.
Even if you are using these virtual assistants as your knowledge bank, they still race ahead of ChatGPT in one crucial area. When you pose a question before Google Assistant, it also brings up relevant web search results so that you instantly click on a link and find more information. This approach also bodes well when it comes to getting more contextual information and vetting the source of information first-hand.
In the case of ChatGPT, it acts more like a summarizer of the internet. When ChatGPT provides you with an answer spread across a few paragraphs, it doesn’t provide any information about the sources that it gleaned the information from. Plus, generative AI programs have well-documented hallucination, bias, and factual inaccuracy problems. In a nutshell, you should avoid blindly trusting the information regurgitated by ChatGPT or any other buzzy product of its ilk.
The road ahead
OpenAI’s conversational AI has stirred quite some renaissance in the tech industry, and to such an extent that the likes of Microsoft and Google are racing to bake AI smarts into their products used by hundreds of millions across the globe. From having an AI write and summarise emails for you to having it create professional presentation slides, the digital citizen is living at the periphery of a dramatic shift that will forever change how we interact with our computing machines.
The New York Times even published a thought-provoking article titled “How Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant Lost the A.I. Race.” But it’s an insightful take at best that focuses more on the mad AI race between the world’s three most influential (and richest) companies. Interestingly, it walks past the dozens of practical tasks where the likes of Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri run circles around ChatGPT.
That status quo is not going to change anytime soon. Yes, ChatGPT is great, and with the recent GPT-4 enhancements, it has added more impressive tricks under its belt. However, those tricks won’t turn AI assistants obsolete. If anything, a well-thought integration of AI smarts will only make these virtual assistants more productive instead of condemning them to a slow death.