Google showcased its plans for the next several months as it kicked off its annual developers’ conference Tuesday. Many of the new features center on the use of artificial intelligence to help save time.
Among the Google I/O highlights was the announcement that Google’s digital assistant will add six new voices, including one based on that of former Philadelphia-based crooner John Legend, the Grammy Award-winning R&B singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet and actor signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label.
The voices aim to sound more natural and will include pauses that convey meaning. Google is also unveiling ways to let you issue multiple commands without having to say “Hey Google” each time. And it will reward kids who say “please,” similar to a feature Amazon is bringing to its Alexa voice assistant.
“We want the Assistant to be something that is natural and comfortable to talk to, and to do that we need to start with the foundation of the Google Assistant — the voice,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “Today that is how most users interact with the assistant. Our current voice is code-named ‘Holly.’ She was a real person. She spent months in our studio and then we stitched those recordings together to create voice.”
A year and a half ago, the company began developing Wavenet, which makes recorded audio sound less robotic and more like a natural voice.
“It’s close to how humans speak,” continued Pichai. “The pitch, the pace, even all the pauses that convey meaning. We want to get all of that right.”
Wavelength technology shortened the time Legend and the other voice actors spent recording. In a video demonstration of the recording session, when asked where he lived, Legend responds: “You can find me on all kinds of devices — phones, Google Homes, and, if I’m lucky, in your heart.”
Currently, Google Assistant allows users to pick between one female (the default) and one male voice. By year’s end the total will grow to eight choices.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.