450,000 Indians have proposed to Google Assistant

A big AI question.
A big AI question.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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Spike Jonze’s Her hits very close to home for many Indians, it seems.

Google Assistant, available in Hindi and English, has increasingly become popular in India, Rishi Chandra, vice president of product management and general manager of home products, said at the India launch of Home, Google’s voice-activated speaker, in New Delhi.

Google’s artificial intelligence-based assistant’s functions include making phone calls, texting, playing music and videos, navigating and searching the internet, and accessing other apps. And now, there’s a new lens with which users are looking at the service.

Scores of Indians, perhaps mimicking the scenario of a man who falls in love with his virtual assistant in the movie Her, have voiced their attraction to Google’s version.

“We have 4.5 lakh marriage proposals to Google Assistant from India,” Chandra said.

Google’s virtual assistant hasn’t been alone in drawing this kind of attention. In 2016, Amazon reported that a quarter of a million people had proposed to its Alexa. When the humanoid robot Sophia, created by Hong Kong-based firm Hanson Robotics, was giving a talk at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay’s tech fest, with more than 3,000 people in the audience, one person proposed marriage to her—she politely declined.

While all this can sound like fun and games, matters can get out of hand. Virtual assistants have been subject to sexual harassment. Bots such as Apple’s Siri, Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Assistant—all of which have women as the default voice—are “programed to literally flirt with abuse” instead of standing up to it, Quartz’s Leah Fessler found. Ilya Eckstein, chief executive of Robin Labs, whose virtual assistant Robin gives traffic advice and directions to drivers and truckers, said a good proportion of his customers’ interactions with the technology were “clearly sexually explicit.”

And this disconcerting effect of technology doesn’t stop at small talk. Sex with robots is also on the cusp of becoming a thing, which experts worry could fuel sex-robot addiction and could alter human relations beyond reversal.