I’ve been thinking all weekend about a story that flashed by
On my Facebook feed on Friday morning.
“Is Google Censoring Jesus?” The magazine title read.
“It knows Buddha…Muhammad, but not Christian Savior.”[i]
That’s the Newsweek headline,
Exploring a little further the work of a local television outlet outside of Nashville.
The subject of that story is a guy named David.
David owns some of those in home gadgets that respond to your voice
That will conduct an internet search or maybe it will play some music.
They might connect to other gadgets to turn off your lights
Or close your garage door.
These so called “smart speakers” remind me a lot
of the Star Trek episodes of my childhood
When Kirk and Spock and Bones could communicate with The Enterprise
with fancy handheld technology
Only to be outdone by Picard and Riker and their even fancier lapel pins.
The computerized world of Star Trek actually resembles a lot
of what Google or Apple can do
as anyone who has tried to ask Siri to check the weather can tell you.
I don’t own a Google Home.
So I don’t quite know how they work, exactly,
But I’ve seen them.
They connect to the internet and do what any search can do
With all the power, and the limitations, of contemporary technology.
They work quite well if you speak slowly enough
for the equipment to hear you
for it to process your voice into digital data,
1s and 0s that it can parse from all the various possibilities
of what you might have said
Discern a request from all of that
Send that request off to their crazy powerful server
Where it will compute it, return the data,
and give it back to you in a reasonably clear humanlike voice, all in nanoseconds.
Google won’t tell us quite how many requests it processes every year.
Back in 2012, one website said that they processed about 40,000 queries a second,
Or 3.5 billion a day, 1.2 Trillion a year.[ii]
In 2016 the number was, Google says, “at least 2 Trillion a year,
but less than a quadrillion” Somewhere around 60,000 a second.[iii]
They have trouble getting the exact data, its changing so rapidly.
And that was before these in-home units, these Smart Speakers,
Have brought Google search technology that much closer to our everyday lives.
It doesn’t work so well for everyone.
Some of us who naturally talk quite fast,
Or who slur some speech
Or who have a pronounced accent
Or who can’t quite grasp the protocol
Sometimes we get frustrated.
Somehow Google doesn’t get frustrated. Or it doesn’t say so if it does.
I use this search feature on my cell phone, all the time.
Its not perfect.
I’m flying to Louisville for a quick meeting this week
And when I went to check the weather there
It told me about the weather in Charlottesville.
I confess, I may have been in a hurry when I asked it.
But we get so used to this technology that we get frustrated when its not perfect.
A comedian once did an entire standup routine
About our frustrations with our cell phones taking 3 seconds to launch a call
When the gadget can send our voice INTO SPACE
Up to a satellite, and back down again, all they way on the other side of the planet.
The cell phone is a technological marvel,
A testimony to human ingenuity and capability
And we gripe when apps get frozen and we have to reboot.[iv]
Ok, maybe we’re getting too far off topic.
But maybe not.
So David, in Nashville Tennessee,
Was using his Google Home smart speaker, and a similar one from Amazon,
And asked both of them “Who is Jesus Christ.”[v]
And Google responded “I’m not sure how to help you with that.” [Read more…]