"OK Google, let's get to know each other a little better." Google said it is ramping up the capabilities of its digital assistant, which has been known as "OK Google" or Google Now. "We truly want to take the next step in being more assistive for our users," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said on stage Wednesday at the company's annual I/O developer conference. So far, this digital assistant has worked as a voice-controlled version of Google's core search services, allowing people using Android smartphones or some Google app to ask specific questions, look up directions or check the weather. The company now wants to make its digital assistant capable of more natural two-way conversation, which could make the tool far more valuable for users and help Google create deeper connections to its audience.
Step aside Alexa, Google has its own voice-based digital assistant: Google Assistant. While it lacks a proper or even pretty name, this could be the mother of all voice-activated assistants. "Our ability to do conversational understanding is far ahead of what other assistants can do," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who announced the new assistant from the Google I/O 2016 developers conference keynote stage on Wednesday. He noted that 20% of all Google searches are accomplished via voice. Pichai demonstrated Google Assistant's prowess by asking it first about "Who directed The Revenant?" Google Assistant correctly answered with "Alejandro G. Iñárritu," but then Pichai showed how he could continue the conversation without repeating the director's name.
Google Assistant might have made its debut at Google I/O 2016, but this year's event was its real coming-out party. Over the past several months, Google has been steadily adding features to its AI chatbot, and now we can finally see a fuller vision for Assistant, and it goes far beyond asking questions about our day. It's my number one most-wanted feature, and will easily double the amount of time I spend using Assistant. Now, if I'm in the office or in bed, I won't have to break the silence with an inopportune "OK Google." I tried it out at I/O, and typing is just as fast as speaking--and in some cases even faster.
Unless you're using Allo, though, you have little choice but to ask the AI questions through voice commands. Google might give you more ways to interact in the near future, however. An exploration of the Android search app's beta code has uncovered hints (namely, a keyboard icon and a text box) that you'll soon have the option of typing your Assistant searches. This is important if you'd rather not reveal your queries to everyone within earshot, but it should also be key to integrating chat bots. It might be easier to start a search, too.
At its "Made by Google" event Tuesday, Google offered up more information about its Amazon Echo-like Google Home device. First announced at Google I/O in May, Google Home is a voice activated, smart home virtual assistant hub. The device is capable of connecting to other gadgets around the home (such as the Nest thermostat) and completing basic tasks like playing music or searching Google. Today we're learning that at launch, Google Home will sell for 129 at Best Buy, Walmart and Target. The device will come in a bevy of color options for the swappable base and includes a free six-month trial of YouTube Red.