Google de­vice can rec­og­nize dif­fer­ent voices

Times Colonist - - Life - MICHAEL LIEDTKE

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Google’s voice­ac­ti­vated as­sis­tant can now rec­og­nize who’s talk­ing to it on the com­pany’s Home speaker.

An up­date out Thurs­day en­ables Home’s built-in as­sis­tant to learn the dif­fer­ent voices of up to six peo­ple, al­though they can’t all be talk­ing to the in­ter­net-con­nected speaker at the same time.

Dis­tin­guish­ing voices will al­low Home to be more per­sonal in some of its re­sponses, de­pend­ing on who trig­gers the as­sis­tant with the phrase, “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google.” For ex­am­ple, once Home is trained to rec­og­nize a user named Joe, the as­sis­tant will au­to­mat­i­cally be able to tell him what traf­fic is like on his com­mute, list events on his daily cal­en­dar or even play his favourite songs. Then an­other user named Jane could get sim­i­lar in­for­ma­tion from Home, but cus­tom­ized for her.

The abil­ity to dis­tin­guish voices may help Home siphon sales from Ama­zon.com’s Echo, a com­pet­ing prod­uct that fea­tures its own voice-ac­ti­vated as­sis­tant, Alexa. The Echo doesn’t yet rec­og­nize dif­fer­ent voices, so Alexa can’t re­trieve more per­sonal in­for­ma­tion for dif­fer­ent ac­counts. Nei­ther prod­uct is yet avail­able in Canada.

Google’s voice-dis­tinc­tion fea­ture, how­ever, won’t pre­vent unau­tho­rized users from ac­ti­vat­ing the as­sis­tant, as long as Home’s mi­cro­phone is turned on.

That loop­hole al­lowed Burger King to re­cently air a TV com­mer­cial that in­cluded the phrase “OK, Google” to prompt Home’s as­sis­tant to re­cite the in­gre­di­ents of the fast-food restau­rant’s Whop­per burger from a Wikipedia en­try.

Google blocked Burger King’s com­mer­cial from toy­ing with the Home as­sis­tant, but the mar­ket­ing stunt il­lus­trated how the tech­nol­ogy can be ma­nip­u­lated. Voi­ceper­son­al­iza­tion even­tu­ally could en­able Home’s users to block others from ac­cess­ing the de­vice, but Google isn’t ready to do that.

“It’s im­por­tant to bal­ance making sure the as­sis­tant on Google Home is still use­ful and able to an­swer a guest’s or friend’s ques­tion, while also an­swer­ing a few spe­cific ques­tions just for you,” Google spokes­woman Kara Stock­ton said.

The voice-dis­tinc­tion fea­ture isn’t be­ing of­fered for the same dig­i­tal as­sis­tant that op­er­ates on Google’s Pixel phone and other smart­phones run­ning on the lat­est ver­sion of its An­droid soft­ware.

A Google Home sits near a phone.

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