Google highlighted the Assistant at I/O 2018

At its annual I/O developer conference, Google made several announcements related to its voice assistant, Google Assistant, that aim to spur adoption of the technology. The biggest updates circle around improving natural interactions and adding a visual component.

Google is enabling more natural interactions with the Assistant aimed to bolster usage of the platform with four key additions:

– Google introduced a Continued Conversation feature. Continued Conversation allows Google Assistant users to ask multiple questions in succession without having to repeat the “Hey, Google” wake-up word for each command. This feature, which should be available in the coming weeks, is similar to Amazon Alexa’s Follow-Up Mode.

– Google launched the ability to create custom Routines. Google rolled out Routines in March 2018 to enable users to manage their connected devices with just a single voice command to Google Assistant, but it was limited to only six pre-programmed Routines. Allowing for customization of Google Assistant Routines could make the platform more useful for consumers, and puts it on par with Alexa.

– Google rolled out a Multiple Actions feature. The Multiple Actions feature allows users to make multiple requests in one voice command. Now Google Assistant will be able to listen to a string of commands within 8 seconds of the initial command. The new feature will improve the speed of the Assistant’s responses, as users no longer have to wait for a second, or third, response.

– Google Assistant now supports six new voices. This brings the total number of voices the Assistant supports to eight — previously, Google Assistant let its users pick between just one female and one male voice. The new voices are built with machine learning technology called WaveNet, which is DeepMind’s model for creating natural-sounding speech. WaveNet also powers Google’s Cloud Text-to-Speech platform.

Google Assistant is also becoming visually assistive. Google unveiled a new experience for Google Assistant that brings up visual information as well as new ways to interact with apps such as those for smart home products. When a user makes a Google Assistant voice request, the assistant will provide a more interactive visual, full-screen experience. For instance, when asking Google Assistant to turn down the heat, a display will show up on the phone with a way to adjust the temperature.

The Google Assistant-powered smart speakers with screen displays will launch in July, with partners including Lenovo, LG, Sony, and Harman via JBL. Smart display speakers can perform all the same functions as smart speakers, but they also offer the ability for users to make video calls, watch videos, look at photos, and search the internet, using both their voice and hands. They also serve as a funnel to bring consumers to YouTube, particularly in areas like the kitchen, where a hands-free, voice-controlled screen could be useful for instructional videos, for example.

The latest announcements could be key in helping Google bolster its voice assistant platform. Google’s emphasis on making the overall Google Assistant experience more conversational and visually assertive will likely fuel engagement on the platform.

As Google Assistant becomes more intelligent and allows for a more natural interaction, and developers create better and more useful ways to integrate them with consumers’ lives, the Assistant will cement itself as the primary way consumers interact with their devices.

Advancements in a bevy of industries are helping intelligent digital voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa become more sophisticated and useful pieces of technology.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are allowing them to accurately understand more information, while upgrades to mobile networks are facilitating quick transfers of data to robust clouds, enabling fast response times. In addition, the swell of internet connected devices like smart thermostats and speakers is giving voice assistants more utility in a connected consumer’s life.

However, there are still numerous barriers that need to be overcome before this product platform will see mass adoption, as both technological challenges and societal hurdles persist.

Source: businessinsider.com; 9 May 2018

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