Turning inner space into outer space

November 1, 2012

That Google app may be too smart for its own good

A colleague recently asked me: “What’s another word for ‘performance’?” My first instinct was to try to think of a few myself, but he ruled them all out — he needed yet another word.

Then a light bulb went on — I fired up the Google app on my iPhone and used my voice to ask the exact same question. Within about two seconds, Google gave me both a definition, which it read out loud, and four synonyms. And that was just for starters. Scrolling down, I found an entry from, which had more synonyms than you could shake a stick at.

What a performance indeed — by the Google app.

Of course, I had to try the same question with Siri just to see how it compares. Siri had to “think about that” for awhile, and finally came up with an entry from WolframAlpha with many synonyms. Siri was a few seconds slower on the uptake and less polished in presentation.

Google is so fast that it might actually be too fast. As you speak, you can see the words forming on the screen. Sometimes they’re wrong, but as you keep speaking, Google figures out what you mean and shows the correct words. But woe be to you if you pause.

For example, if you ask: “What’s another word for . . .” you’re whisked to without the benefit of stating the word you were looking for. Siri, on the other hand, doesn’t penalize you for pausing. So slow can be good sometimes.