Tech

Google Homes were totally busted. That could be a big deal in the future.

If your AI goes out, who’s going to answer your deepest questions?

If your voice-controlled AI speaker can’t respond to your voice, well… what’s the point?

Google Home owners were reportedly faced with that existential quandary last weekend as an undetermined number of the smart assistant-powered speaker hubs went offline. The AI behind the Google Home, Google Assistant, completely shut down all user requests after being prompted by the wake phrase, "OK Google," according to Android Headlines.

Gets Google Home. Tries to use said device. Finds out there is an outage 😞

— Bryant Plano (@BryantPlano) June 4, 2017

The Home speakers replied to the fruitless prompts with responses like, “Hmm, something went wrong. Try again in a few seconds,” or “There was a glitch. Try again in a few seconds.”

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The outages followed the Home’s launch in Canada on June 2, and were widely reported in Google’s dedicated Home Help Forum. The issues plaguing the Home didn’t stretch to everything in the Assistant ecosystem, however — users reported that other Assistant-operated devices worked just fine.

"Google Home Outage Is Affecting A Number Of Users." LOL. Some number. Could be one. Could be one million. We have no idea.

— Paul Thurrott (@thurrott) June 5, 2017

We tested our in-office Home unit to see if it was affected, but had no problems queuing up Assistant to answer every question we had.

Google was aware of the issue as early as May 31, and provided an update on June 3. Users kept reporting the so-called glitch, however, until today, when the Google Home Team alerted all of the concerned customers about its fix for the outage:

Image: google/screenshot

That’s right. The Home-crippling glitch can be corrected by that old unplug and plug it back in troubleshooting method.

Bigger than just the Home

While the simple fix to the outage is a relief (if it works), the lack of context is concerning. We still don’t know exactly what caused the Home devices to go out of commission — Google hasn’t yet responded to our requests for comment, and nothing has been posted in the forums.

That might just mean the company is still working to ID the exact cause of the blackout before going public, which is wise — but with the emphasis on AI adoption being pushed by Google, Amazon, and others, this type of mass outage could be the harbinger of bigger issues.

AI is becoming an increasingly larger part of our daily lives and routines, and that trend is only going to continue. Google’s recent I/O event was particularly AI and Assistant-driven, while Apple is expected to unleash Siri everywhere and Alexa dominates the market.

For now, the Homes outage was just a frustrating inconvenience for early adopters — but once we’ve fully integrated the AI assistants in our lives and connected our smart homes to their networks, it could lead to bigger problems.

Just think about a standard blackout today. You know exactly when the power goes out. If your AI goes out — which could conceivably control just about every utility in your home and manage safety systems — you might not know until you need an answer to a useless question and your Google Assistant tells you there’s a glitch. With your home depending on your AI, that might not be soon enough.

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