ChatGPT is an impressive AI chatbot, but digital assistants aren’t new—Siri and Google Assistant have been around for years. People say these assistants feel “dumb” now, and they lost the “AI race,” but their demise has been greatly exaggerated.
ChatGPT is Not an Assistant
ChatGPT and other AI chatbots—such as Bing Chat and Google Bard—have some things in common with “virtual assistants”—Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa. They are all based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, but they function in very different ways.
In simple terms, AI chatbots are more about talking, whereas virtual assistants are geared toward doing. ChatGPT can’t turn on the lights in your room, start a YouTube video on your TV, tell you the events on your calendar, play music from an app, or set a reminder.
That’s the core difference between chatbots and virtual assistants. While you can get ChatGPT working on your iPhone or Android device in a similar fashion to a virtual assistant, it isn’t very helpful on a day-to-day basis.
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ChatGPT vs. Google Assistant vs. Siri
Let’s think about some things you might ask Google Assistant or Siri and see how ChatGPT handles them.
What’s the temperature?
- Google Assistant: “In Lansing, it’s currently 47 degrees.”
- Siri: “It’s currently 49 degrees.”
- ChatGPT: “I’m sorry, as an AI language model, I don’t have direct access to real-time information such as temperature. Can I help you with anything else?”
Remind me at 2 PM to do laundry.
- Google Assistant: “Got it, I’ll remind you today at 2 PM
- Siri: “Okay, I’ve added it.”
- ChatGPT: “Sure, I can set a reminder for you! Is there a specific timezone you want me to use?”
Me: Eastern time.”
ChatGPT: “Got it! I have set a reminder for you to do laundry at 2 PM Eastern Time. Is there anything else I can assist you with?” (ChatGPT cannot set reminders. The reminder never appeared.)
Play Fleetwood Mac.
- Google Assistant: Starts playing on Spotify, my default music service.
- Siri: Asks which app to use, then plays it on that app.
- ChatGPT: “I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to play music. However, I can certainly provide you with information about Fleetwood Mac if that’s what you’re interested in. Let me know if you have any questions!”
Tell me a joke.
- Google Assistant: “Why did the cookie go to the hospital? Because it felt crummy.”
- Siri: “Why do pirates take so long to learn the alphabet? Because they spend years at C.”
- ChatGPT: “Why couldn’t the bicycle stand up by itself? Because it was two-tired!”
How long will it take to drive from Detroit to Grand Rapids?
- Google Assistant: “With light traffic, it will take you 2 hours and 23 minutes to drive by car.”
- Siri: Shows results for websites that can calculate driving time.
- ChatGPT: “The driving time from Detroit to Grand Rapids can vary depending on factors such as traffic and route taken. However, the distance between Detroit and Grand Rapids is approximately 150 miles, and it typically takes around 2.5 to 3 hours to drive between the two cities.”
How old is Hayden Panettiere?
- Google Assistant: “Hayden Panettiere is 33 years old.”
- Siri: “Hayden Panettiere is 33 years old.”
- ChatGPT: “As of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, Hayden Panettiere was born on August 21, 1989, which would make her 32 years old. However, please note that I am an AI language model and my responses are based on the information available to me as of my knowledge cutoff date. It is possible that her age may have changed since then.”
- Google Assistant: “She was born on August 21st, 1989.”
- Siri: “Even though I came into existence gradually, I think of October 4th, 2011, as my birthday. That’s the day I started the best job in the universe.” (Siri doesn’t have the ability to remember what we were talking about.)
- ChatGPT: “Hayden Panettiere was born on August 21, 1989.”
As you can see, there are some stark differences in the abilities of these AI-infused products. Google Assistant clearly comes out on top, answering each question correctly, including follow-up questions. Siri comes in second place since it defaults to a web search for the driving distance question and can’t do follow-up questions.
ChatGPT failed pretty badly a couple of times. First, and most egregiously, it’s convinced it can set a reminder for me. I asked several follow-up questions about where the reminders were being made, where they would appear, etc. It kept feeding me lies about the reminders being sent to “wherever you’ve set up your reminders to appear” or “reminders will be sent to the device or account that you set them up on.” None of this is true; the reminders never appeared anywhere.
ChatGPT is also not able to access my real-time location for weather or work with any services on the device I’m using to start playing music for me. Plugins will help ChatGPT work with other services in the future.
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The reminder prompt is a perfect example of an area where ChatGPT is not ready to replace virtual assistants. ChatGPT is designed to generate human-like responses to answers—so that’s what it does. Humans are very good at confidently being wrong.
My colleague Corbin Davenport asked ChatGPT a seemingly simple question: “what state capitals in the United States start with the letter A?” ChatGPT very confidently stated four capitals and then said “Note: There is also Austin, which is the capital of Texas, but it does not start with the letter “A.” Excuse me?
What makes matters worse is it will sometimes admit that “as an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to [blank].” You’re left thinking it must have the ability to do something, like set reminders, when it gives you an answer. You shouldn’t have to do that much fact checking for something that’s supposed to make your life easier.
Of course, Google Assistant and Siri are not perfect truth-tellers. Google Assistant grabs a lot of information from the web, which can very often be unreliable. Siri tries to get around this by defaulting to show web results more often than stating an answer, but it can be wrong too.
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ChatGPT: Impressive, But Not There Yet
Now, ChatGPT isn’t completely useless compared to the virtual assistants. There are some things that it does better. Impressively better, in fact.
One thing that I’ve been impressed with is ChatGPT’s ability to write recipes. If I ask Google Assistant or Siri to write me a recipe for Olive Burger dip, I just get web results for recipes. ChatGPT will actually create a recipe for me right then and there. It’s also great if you ask for a recipe that includes specific ingredients.
In general, ChatGPT is much better at performing tasks that require “creative” writing. It can write cover letters and resumes, come up with names for a product, write stories about specific things, compose song lyrics, etc. You can very easily have a conversation with ChatGPT to fine-tune the results to your liking. Google Assistant and Siri are not designed for these types of things.
That’s the important thing to remember when it comes to ChatGPT “replacing” virtual assistants—that’s not what it’s designed for. Google Assistant and Siri aren’t “dumb,” they’re doing a different job. It’s like calling a professional chef “dumb” for not being able to build a house.
ChatGPT is good for some things, virtual assistants are better at, well, assisting. Virtual assistants don’t have to worry about losing their jobs to chatbots. Yet.
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