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Google slaps Siri with Assistant and Amazon with Home device

The future is voice, says Chocolate Factory

By Iain Thomson, 18 May 2016

Google I/O 2016 Google is getting into the digital helper game with the launch of Assistant, a Siri-style online helper, and promised Google Home – an Echo-like listening station that can be used to house the helper.

CEO Sundar Pichai explained that Assistant was the result of ten years of language processing by the Chocolate Factory. Over half of Google searches are now done on a mobile phone, he said, and 20 per cent of those are voice requests, giving the firm a lot of experience in understanding its users.

"In conversational understanding we are an order of magnitude ahead of everyone else," he said. "This is going to be key to Assistant; think of this as building each user their own individual Google. Think of it as an ambient experience that extends across devices – it will be on phones, devices they wear, in living rooms."

Pichai said that not only was Assistant a whiz at voice searches, it was able to carry out a conversation. He used the example of asking for the name of the director of The Revenant, then asked "Is he any good?" at which point Assistant displayed the director's reviews without having to ask for his name.

The Assistant will use people's past history with Google to customize its content for each individual user. It will be available on any internet-connected device and in the home, thanks to new hardware coming out later this year.

The Google Home device is basically the same as Amazon's Echo, and Pichai said Bezos' bunch deserved credit for its invention for its home hub, but claimed Google's device would be better.

Home is a white wireless speaker with customizable bases and LEDs on the slanted top. The Home device will house Assistant, and can also work with the Chromecast dongles people might have attached to their speakers or TV.

Google said that the device comes out later this year, but didn't comment on how much it would cost. It will work with Nest thermostats and other smart-home devices that use Google's IoT OS.

Assistant will also be integrated into two new messaging apps coming out this summer: Allo and Duo. Allo is a text-based messaging service tied to your phone number and Assistant will provide suggested responses to messages.

Allo also has a couple of new features not seen in other messaging apps. First, text size is flexible, allowing the user to scroll up and down on the send button to pick the size that suits.

Secondly, Allo now has an incognito mode, similar to that in Chrome. Incognito messages can be set up to hide the name of the sender, autodelete after a set period of time, and all messages are end-to-end encrypted. Whereas incognito mode in browsers is for porn, Allo looks perfect for those having an affair.

Duo is a videoconferencing app for Android and iOS, due out this summer. Video of the caller is displayed on the phone before the recipient answers it, so you can decide whether or not to accept the call.

The software is designed to constantly check bandwidth and optimize the image up to HD quality, and to switch between cellular and WiFi connections to get the best image.

Assistant is going to be embedded in these apps and many others, Pichai promised, and will become a personalized digital assistant that will know you as well as you know yourself. Siri watch out, Google is gunning for you. ®

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