Google Now advances search, aims for Apple's Siri

Analysts warn new voice feature could be helpful, kind of creepy

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"Google is moving from being an information infrastructure company to a company empowering the human condition -- the human infrastructure," said Shimmin. "Google Now makes sense because it puts Google's areas of expertise, such as Maps and search, to work where and when they can have the greatest impact -- on our mobile devices in real time."

And it's going to be a strong challenger to Siri, he added.

"It differs from Siri in that it isn't simply a search or task automation tool that understands natural language," said Shimmin. "Instead, it's a natural language knowledge service. I think the current dissent surrounding Siri stems not from the technology, but from the way users must interact with that technology. Both Apple and Google will need to improve the way users interface with these systems to make them less intrusive, more natural and overall less annoying to those within earshot."

However, in order to be able to remind you about an upcoming meeting or to warn you about the weather before you plan to bike to work, Google Now needs to know a lot of information about you, what you've done in the past, what you're doing right now and what you'll most likely be doing in the days or months ahead.

And that could be an issue for a lot of people.

"It can be very helpful in a lot of situations, but it could also be skin crawlingly creepy when users stop to think about how much Google knows about their interests and habits," said Olds. "Over time, the Google Now assistant can potentially become very powerful, and thus more helpful, as it learns more about user likes, dislikes, and routines. But in order to do this, Google will need to track, log, correlate, and hold onto much more information.

"That's where the creepiness comes in."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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