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I’m debating whether my family should adopt a new pet.
About 10 years ago, my son picked out a border collie mix at the Humane Society near my house. Abby has been struggling with hip problems lately, but she’s mostly as eager as ever to head out on a walk. Still, she could use a companion other than the humans at home from college this summer and a cat that is only marginally interested in acknowledging her existence.
I’m also thinking of moving back to the country. If you must know, we’ve lived in a busy part of Minneapolis for a few years now. Before that, we lived in the country on a five-acre hobby farm. The pets ran wild and free in sun-soaked fields. Here, not so much.
If we end up moving soon, we’ll likely adopt another dog or two. (The jury is still deliberating about adopting more cats.) That’s why, when I heard that the Google Home speaker and its Assistant bot can guide you through the process, I was interested…and a bit skeptical.
I first asked about dog breeds that get along best with cats. The first one listed caught my attention — a golden retriever. Interesting. This mild-mannered breed makes sense. I took care of one over the summer as a teenager, and they tend to be calm and subdued. That helped me get rolling on asking a few more questions. I asked about the friendliest breed and the smallest. I asked about nutrition. Everything was working wonderfully so far.
However, things started to break down a little.
I asked which breed gets along with cats the least, and the Assistant on the speaker didn’t know the answer. That was perplexing to me — why would the bot know the friendliest dog breed for cat owners but not the least friendly? It must be a Dobermann pincher or a pit bull, I thought. Who knows?
Next, I started asking about where to adopt a pet. This all led to some blank stares from the bot (or at least a few long pauses). Google Home can answer a few basic questions about pets, but it also missed a few easy ones. More importantly, it didn’t link the search for a proper breed to the act of actually locating one. That was one major strike against the voicebot market.
Google Home did let me ask about pet care. I asked the voicebot about exercising a new dog, which worked fine. Google Home didn’t realize there’s a dog park near my house — kind of off the Google Maps, you might say — and suggested a much more professional one across town. My guess is that Google only knows about dog parks that have a website.
Of course, you can’t see pictures of dogs or check on adoption prices.
I feel voicebots have become part of my daily routine, but there’s one big issue. For now, it’s a diversion and a bit entertaining. What if it becomes impractical? If the voicebot only helps to an extent and then we have to retreat to a computer or a smartphone, it ruins the experience.
Google Home didn’t help me find a dog, but at least it did help me think about next steps. Once we move, maybe the bot will become advanced enough to complete the entire process. Otherwise, I might end up finding a new dog the old-fashioned way — by going to the Humane Society in person and wandering around.
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