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谷歌助理:科技巨头面向未来的一次豪赌

更新时间:2016-10-1 8:54:30 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

A High-Stakes Bet: Turning Google Assistant Into a ‘Star Trek’ Computer
谷歌助理:科技巨头面向未来的一次豪赌

Google is one of the most valuable companies in the world, but its future, like that of all tech giants, is clouded by a looming threat. The search company makes virtually all of its money from ads placed on the World Wide Web. But what happens to the cash machine if web search eventually becomes outmoded?

谷歌(Google)是世界上最有价值的公司之一。不过,像其他所有科技巨擘一样,其未来因为一种迫在眉睫的威胁而蒙上了阴影。这家搜索公司的收入几乎全部来自发布在万维网上的广告。但如果网页搜索最终成为过时的东西,这部赚钱机器会变成什么样?

That worry isn’t far-fetched. More of the world’s computing time keeps shifting to smartphones, where apps have supplanted the web. And internet-connected devices that may dominate the next era in tech — smartwatches, home-assistant devices like Amazon’s Echo, or virtual reality machines like Oculus Rift — are likely to be free of the web, and may even lack screens.

这并非杞人忧天。人们正更多地把计算机时间分配给智能手机,而智能手机上的应用程序已经取代了网页。此外,或许会成为科技行业下一个时代的主导者的联网设备——智能手表,亚马逊(Amazon)的Echo等家庭辅助设备,或者Oculus Rift等虚拟现实设备——有可能与网页无关,甚至可能不带屏幕。

Google’s new assistant will be incorporated in new products like Google Home, an Amazon Echo-like talking computer.
新开发的谷歌助理将内置在一些新产品中,譬如跟亚马逊的Echo类似的可交谈式计算机谷歌家庭(Google Home)。

But if Google is worried, it isn’t showing it. The company has long been working on a not-so-secret weapon to avert its potential irrelevance. Google has shoveled vast financial and engineering resources into a collection of data mining and artificial intelligence systems, from speech recognition to machine translation to computer vision.

不过,即便谷歌感到担心,它也不会形之于色。该公司一直致力于打造一个不再为秘密的秘密武器,以免自己在未来变得无关紧要。谷歌把大量财力和技术资源投入到了一系列数据挖掘和人口智能系统之中,从语音识别到机器翻译再到计算机视觉,不一而足。

Now Google is melding these advances into a new product, a technology whose ultimate aim is something like the talking computer on “Star Trek.” It is a high-stakes bet: If this new tech fails, it could signal the beginning of the end of Google’s reign over our lives. But if it succeeds, Google could achieve a centrality in human experience unrivaled by any tech product so far.

现在,谷歌正把在这些领域取得的成果融入一种新产品,这种科技的终极目标是《星际迷航》里的那种可交谈式计算机一类的东西。这是一次风险极高的押注:如果对新技术的开发以失败告终,可能意味着谷歌对我们的生活的统治即将终结。但如果开发成功,谷歌就可以在改善人类体验方面取得核心地位,这将是迄今为止的任何科技产品无法比拟的。

The company calls its version of this all-powerful machine the Google Assistant. Today, it resembles other digital helpers you’ve likely used — things like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. It currently lives in Google’s new messaging app, Allo, and will also be featured in a few new gadgets the company plans to unveil next week, including a new smartphone and an Amazon Echo-like talking computer called Google Home.

谷歌把自己的这种全能产品称作谷歌助理(Google Assistant)。眼下,它酷似你可能用过的其他数字助手,比如苹果(Apple)的Siri、亚马逊的Alexa,以及微软(Microsoft)的小娜(Cortana)。它目前存在于谷歌的新通讯应用程序Allo之中,还将在该公司计划于下周推出的几种新设备中现身,其中包括一种智能手机,以及一种跟亚马逊的Echo类似,名为谷歌家庭(Google Home)的音控计算机。

But Google has much grander aims for the Assistant. People at the company say that Sundar Pichai, who took over as Google’s chief executive last year after Google was split into a conglomerate called Alphabet, has bet the company on the new tech. Mr. Pichai declined an interview request for this column, but at Google’s developer conference in May, he called the development of the Assistant “a seminal moment” for the company.

不过,谷歌助理承载着该公司更大的雄心。该公司的人士称,谷歌首席执行官桑达尔·皮查伊(Sundar Pichai)把整个公司的未来都押在了这项技术上。皮查伊是在谷歌于去年被重组为字母表(Alphabet)集团之后接任首席执行官一职的,他婉拒了就本文接受采访的请求,但在今年5月的谷歌开发者大会上,他说开发谷歌助理对该公司而言是开创性的时刻。

If the Assistant or something like it does not take off, Google’s status as the chief navigator of our digital lives could be superseded by a half-dozen other assistants. You might interact with Alexa in your house, with Siri on your phone, and with Facebook Messenger’s chatbot when you’re out and about. Google’s search engine (not to mention its Android operating system, Chrome, Gmail, Maps and other properties) would remain popular and lucrative, but possibly far less so than they are today.

如果谷歌助理或类似的东西没能大获成功,谷歌作为我们数字生活的首席导航者的地位,可能会被其他五六种助理取代。你或许会在自家屋子里与Alexa互动,在手机上与Siri互动,在外出活动时与Facebook Messenger的聊天机器人互动。谷歌的搜索引擎(更别提它的安卓操作系统、Chrome、Gmail、Maps等产品了)仍将受到欢迎并制造丰厚的利润,但恐怕远远比不了今时今日。

That’s the threat. But the Assistant also presents Google with a delicious opportunity. The “Star Trek” computer is no metaphor. The company believes that machine learning has advanced to the point that it is now possible to build a predictive, all-knowing, superhelpful and conversational assistant of the sort that Captain Kirk relied on to navigate the stars.

这就是威胁所在。但谷歌助理也会为该公司带来美妙的机遇。星际迷航式计算机不只是眩目的说辞。该公司认为,鉴于机器学习技术已经发展到了当下的水平,完全有可能打造出柯克船长(Captain Kirk)赖以遨游星际的那种具有预测能力、无所不知、超级有帮助,而且可以跟人交谈的助理。

The Assistant, in Google’s most far-out vision, would always be around, wherever you are, on whatever device you use, to handle just about any informational task.

按照谷歌公司最先锋的设想,谷歌助理将无时无刻不在你身边,无论你身在何处,不管使用哪种设备,都能处理几乎任何一种信息任务。

Consider this common situation: Today, to book a trip, you usually have to load up several travel sites, consult your calendar and coordinate with your family and your colleagues. If the Assistant works as well as Google hopes, all you might have to do is say, “O.K., Google, I need to go to Hong Kong next week. Take care of it.”

不妨看看一个很普通的场景:眼下,要想预订行程,你通常得登上好几家旅行网站,查看自己的日历,与家人和同事协调。假如谷歌助理有设想的那么出色,你可能只需要说一句,“嗯,谷歌,我需要下星期去香港。帮我搞掂。”

Based on your interactions with it over the years, Google would know your habits, your preferences and your budget. It would know your friends, family and your colleagues. With access to so much data, and with the computational power to interpret all of it, the Assistant most likely could handle the entire task; if it couldn’t, it would simply ask you to fill in the gaps, the way a human assistant might.

根据与你互动多年的经历,谷歌会了解你的习惯、偏好和预算。它也会认识你的亲友与同事。由于能够获取海量数据,又有诠释所有这些数据的计算能力,谷歌助理极有可能可以处理整项任务;如果不行,它就会直接提出问题,让你来填补空白,与人类助理一样。

Computers have made a lot of everyday tasks far easier to accomplish, yet they still require a sometimes annoying level of human involvement to get the most out of them. The Assistant’s long-term aim is to eliminate all this busywork.

电脑让众多的日常任务完成起来比以前轻松得多,然而还是需要人的参与来发挥它们的全部能量,有时颇为恼人。谷歌助理的长期目标是消除所有这些琐事。

If it succeeds, it would be the ultimate expression of what Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, once described as the perfect search engine: a machine that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”

倘若能够成功,它将是谷歌联合创始人拉里·佩奇(Larry Page)曾经描述过的完美搜索引擎的终极表达:一台“能理解人的意图,并能给出恰好需要的反馈”的机器。

If you use the Assistant today, you’ll see some of these advances. As my colleague Brian X. Chen explained last week, if your friend sends you a picture of his dog on Allo, Google Assistant will not only recognize that it’s a dog, but it will also tell you the breed.

如果现在去使用谷歌助理,你是能看到其中的一些进步的。我的同事布莱恩·X·陈(Brian X. Chen)上周撰文解释,若是朋友通过Allo给你发一张狗的照片,谷歌助理不仅能认出这是一条狗,而且还能告诉你狗的品种。

That’s an amazing technological feat. But as Brian pointed out, it’s also pretty useless. Why does your friend care if you know his dog’s a Shih Tzu?

这可是项了不起的技术成就。不过,就像布莱恩指出的,这也并没有什么用处。朋友干嘛要在意你是否知道他家的狗是西施犬呢?

This gets to a deeper difficulty. The search company might have the technical capacity to create the smartest assistant around, but it’s not at all clear that it has the prowess to create the friendliest, most charming or most useful assistant. Google needs to nail not just Assistant’s smarts, but also its personality — a new skill for Google, and one that its past forays into social software (Google Plus, anyone?) don’t speak highly of.

这就涉及到一个更深层次的难题。擅长搜索的谷歌拥有创造出世上最智能的助理工具的能力,但它是否有本事打造出最友善、最迷人乃至最有用的助理,却完全是个未知数。谷歌需要做好的不仅是助理的智能性,还有它的个性——这对谷歌而言是一项新技能,也是公司过去在社交软件上的几次尝试(有人还记得Google Plus吗?)表现不佳的一个地方。

Then there is the mismatch between Google’s ambitions and Assistant’s current reality. Danny Sullivan, the founding editor of Search Engine Land, told me that so far, he hadn’t noticed the Assistant helping him in any major way.

此外,谷歌的雄心与助理目前的表现并不匹配。按照“搜索引擎天地”博客(Search Engine Land)的创始主编丹尼·沙利文(Danny Sullivan)告诉我的说法,截至目前,他还没发现谷歌助理在任何大的方面对他有所帮助。

“When I was trying to book a movie, it didn’t really narrow things down for me,” he said. “And there were some times it was wrong. I asked it to show me my upcoming trip, and it didn’t get that.”

“我准备订张电影票的时候,它并没有帮我简化什么东西,”他说。“有时候还会出错。我让它显示接下来的出行计划,结果它不懂。”

Of course, it’s still early. Mr. Sullivan has high hopes for the Assistant. It would be premature to look at the technology today and get discouraged about its future, especially since Google sees this as a multiyear, perhaps even decade-long project. And especially if Google’s future depends on getting this right.

当然,时间还早。沙利文对谷歌助理寄予厚望。看着今天的技术就对未来的发展泄气,实在过于仓促,尤其是考虑到谷歌认为这是一个为期多年的项目,甚至可能持续十年。更要考虑到,谷歌的未来或许就维系于它的成功。

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