Archive for the ‘Google Assistant’ Category

Google workers listen to your “OK Google” queries—one of them leaked recordings

July 11th, 2019
Three different Google Home smart speakers sitting next to each other on a table.

Enlarge / The Google Home Mini, the original Google Home, and the Google Home Max. (credit: Google)

Google today defended its practice of having workers listen to users' Google Assistant queries, following the leak of 1,000 voice recordings to a media outlet. Google also said it will try to prevent future leaks of its users' voice recordings.

VRT NWS, a news organization run by a public broadcaster in the Flemish region of Belgium, said it "was able to listen to more than a thousand [Google Assistant] recordings" that it received from a Google subcontractor.

Google Assistant is used on Google Home smart speakers, Android devices, and Chromebooks.

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Posted in Biz & IT, Google Assistant, Google Home, Ok Google, Tech | Comments (0)

Lenovo Smart Clock review: A small smart display that doesn’t display much

June 3rd, 2019
Lenovo Smart Clock review: A small smart display that doesn’t display much

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the like want to convince you that you need a smart display. But as we've explored in previous reviews, most smart displays are luxury versions of their screen-less counterparts. Everything that you can do with an Amazon Echo or a Google Home can be done with a comparable smart display, but the latter can show you visual information and (in some cases) videos. If you don't care much for visual information in such a device, why spring for a smart display? These devices are hard sells, particularly because most cost $150 or more.

That's not the case with Lenovo's new Smart Clock. It's the first Google-Assistant answer to Amazon's Echo Spot, serving as a tiny smart screen that shows the time by default and can be used to set alarms and do everything a regular Google Home device does. It could be an ideal device for someone who wants a virtual assistant at home and could use some visual information in their daily routine. But most importantly, it's great for those who don't want to spend a lot—Lenovo's Smart Clock costs $79, which is even more affordable than the $129 Echo Spot.

But a few big differences distinguish Lenovo's Smart Clock from Amazon's Echo Spot, and they will be make-or-break for some users. We used both devices for about a week simultaneously to see if a tiny smart display is the way to go and how the two compare to each other.

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Posted in alexa, amazon, echo spot, Features, google, Google Assistant, Google Home, Lenovo, smart clock, Tech | Comments (0)

Google debuts “next-generation” Assistant, coming to next Pixel phones

May 7th, 2019
A man gives a speech on a stage in front of the image of three smartphones.

Enlarge (credit: Google/Screenshot)

Google on Tuesday debuted an updated version of its Google Assistant platform during the keynote of its Google I/O developers conference.

The company said it is internally calling this the "next-generation" Assistant and that it will first become available on Google's "new Pixel phones" later this year. (Not to be confused with the budget-friendly Pixel 3a phones Google also announced on Tuesday.)

Google is touting significant performance improvements with the updated Assistant, claiming that it can process and understand voice requests "in real time" and deliver results "up to 10 times faster" than its current iteration. The company says this is primarily due to it condensing the AI models used to interpret speech down to a half a gigabyte, which is small enough for them to process directly on a smartphone instead of requiring remote servers.

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Posted in AI, google, Google Assistant, Google I/O, Google Pixel, smartphones, Tech | Comments (0)

Google renames Assistant home devices, debuts $229 Nest Hub Max

May 7th, 2019
Google renames Assistant home devices, debuts $229 Nest Hub Max

Enlarge (credit: Google)

At its annual developers conference, Google expanded its line of Assistant home devices and renamed the entire family. The new Nest Hub Max is the 10-inch version of the existing Google Home Hub with some added features, and now the entire Assistant device family will fall under the Nest branding. So the Home Hub will now be called the Nest Hub, and so on.

The new Nest Hub Max has a 10-inch touchscreen, making it larger than the original, 7-inch Nest Hub. This also puts it more in line with partner devices like Lenovo's Smart Display for the Google Assistant. Aside from Google's virtual assistant, inside the Nest Hub Max is a smart home control system that lets you ask the Assistant to turn on smart lights, adjust thermostats, and play music all from one device. It also supports thread similarly to Nest Connect, so it can control thread-compatible, low-power devices like smart door locks.

A glaring omission from the Nest Hub was a camera, but Google fixed that with the Nest Hub Max. The tiny camera that sits atop the display can work just like a Nest home security camera, allowing you to see what's going on in your home even when you're out. Many of the standard Nest features apply, including motion alerts and notifications when the camera detects an unknown person in your home.

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Posted in google, Google Assistant, google home hub, Google I/O, Nest, smart home, Tech | Comments (0)

Facebook is working on an AI voice assistant similar to Alexa, Google Assistant

April 18th, 2019
Facebook's Portal+ smart display.

Enlarge / Along with video chatting through Facebook Messenger, both Portal devices have built-in Amazon Alexa. (credit: Facebook)

Facebook is working on developing an AI voice assistant similar in functionality to Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, according to a report from CNBC and a later statement from a Facebook representative.

The CNBC report, which cites "several people familiar with the matter," says the project has been ongoing since early 2018 in the company's offices in Redmond, Washington. The endeavor is led by Ira Snyder, whose listed title on LinkedIn is "Director, AR/VR and Facebook Assistant at Facebook." Facebook Assistant may be the name of the project. CNBC writes that Facebook has been reaching out to vendors in the smart-speaker supply chain, suggesting that Portal may only be the first of many smart devices the company makes.

When contacted for comment, Facebook sent a statement to Reuters, The Verge, and others, saying: "We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus, and future products."

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Posted in AI, alexa, Facebook, Facebook M, Facebook Portal, Google Assistant, Siri, Smart Speaker, Tech, voice assistant | Comments (0)

Google and Walmart team up to let users buy groceries with voice commands

April 2nd, 2019
Google and Walmart team up to let users buy groceries with voice commands

Enlarge (credit: Walmart)

In its latest attempts to battle Amazon, Walmart teamed up with another tech giant to introduce a new way for its customers to buy groceries. According to a blog post by Walmart's senior vice president of digital operations Tom Ward, Walmart will now let those with Google Assistant devices buy groceries just by using their voices. Dubbed Walmart Voice Order, the feature will roll out over the next few weeks to those with Google Home devices along with other Google Assistant-enabled devices including Android smartphones and iPhones.

To begin voice-controlled shopping, users must say "Hey Google, talk to Walmart." Then, they can ask the virtual assistant to add items to their Walmart Grocery cart, and eventually, check out. Like most virtual assistant features, Walmart Voice Order will get better at identifying the specific items you want the more you use it. For example, the feature should be able to identify the type of milk you want based on previous orders.

Google's Assistant is available on more than just Google-made devices. Those with Google Home Hubs can ask Walmart Voice Order to do their shopping just as easily as those with Android smartphones or iPhones with the proper software installed. Ward writes that Walmart is "kicking off the work with Google," but it plans to add other platforms into the mix in the future. That could mean Walmart wants the feature to eventually work with Apple's Siri.

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Posted in alexa, amazon, Biz & IT, google, Google Assistant, online shopping, Tech, virtual assistant, walmart | Comments (0)

In-car AI assistants are coming whether you like it or not

January 30th, 2019
In-car AI assistants are coming whether you like it or not

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

LAS VEGAS—Like it or not, CES has now become a car show, for the same reason we cover the automotive world now at Ars Technica. Simply put, the tech sector has taken a look at the automobile, and it sees dollar signs. Whether or not this vast annual trade show is the right way to kick off a new year (spoiler—it's not), attending CES does have some value in trend-spotting. And this year, the main trend appeared to be "the same product you saw last year, but with AI": AI-enabled TVs, AI-enabled induction cooktops, and yes, AI in cars.

Truth be told, the idea of an in-car AI personal assistant has been around for a while now. I got my first glimpse of this brave new world in 2016 when Audi showed me its concept called PIA (for Personal Intelligent Assistant). Since then, I've heard talk of such AI helpers from more and more car makers, and the technology is getting closer to production.

Take BMW—in a couple of months, in some markets, you'll be able to buy a 3 Series (or 8 Series, or X5, or Z4) that includes the company's new Intelligent Personal Assistant as a feature of the new seventh-generation infotainment system. Leveraging some rather good voice recognition (take a bow, Nuance), you can give the car instructions like, "Hey BMW, I'm cold," at which point it will increase the cabin temperature for you. "We expect much higher engagement with voice interaction," said Dieter May, BMW's SVP for digital products and services.

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Posted in alexa, cars, Google Assistant, in-car AI, Nuance | Comments (0)

Google boasts 1 billion Assistant devices—10x Amazon Alexa’s install base

January 7th, 2019
Some of the many things that can run the Google Assistant.

Enlarge / Some of the many things that can run the Google Assistant.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off this week, and the show promises to be a voice command battleground. Before Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa start duking it out on the show floor, Google wants to let the world know just how many devices have access to the Google Assistant: a cool billion. Google says it expects to hit one billion Google Assistant devices by the end of the month—that's the total install base of devices that allow the user to issue voice commands to the Google Assistant.

Thanks to a report from The Verge, we also have really recent numbers for Alexa. Amazon just announced there are 100 million Alexa devices out there, so if we're treating all devices as equal, Google has ten times as many voice command devices in the wild than Amazon.

The Google Assistant launched in 2016 on the Google Pixel phone and since then has spread to a ton of devices. There's a range of smart speakers like the Google Home line and third-party devices from JBL, Sony, Panasonic, LG, and more. There are smart displays like the Google Home Hub and third-party offerings from Lenovo, JBL, and LG. With a phone running Android Auto, you can have access to the Assistant from your car's infotainment screen. For TVs, there's both Sony and LG displays with Android TV and the Assistant built in, set-top boxes from Nvidia and Xiaomi, and even a plan for smart soundbars. For laptops, Google-built Chrome OS devices all have access to the Google Assistant, and it sounds like it's going to be a standard feature on all Chrome OS devices soon. If you make the mistake of buying a Wear OS device, you can get the Assistant on your watch, and it's even available on some Nest cameras.

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Posted in alexa, amazon, Android, ces2019, google, Google Assistant, IoT, Tech | Comments (0)