Google Assistant, the search giant’s answer to Amazon’s artificial intelligence assistant Alexa, debuted in May 2016. At the time of its introduction the helper only lived inside the firm’s messaging app Allo. Since then it’s evolved to occupy Google’s smart speakers and car products as well as on Android phones. Initially, the AI-assistant was locked inside the Pixel phones and then was adopted by other manufacturers.
But Android devices running Google’s assistant are largely reliant on being able to remotely process the data required to provide answers to queries. This process is done in the cloud. Now Google is announcing that it will be embedding the Assistant into the handsets of other manufacturers. “Many of the original equipment manufacturers have announced, or will be announcing, AI chips in their phones,” Nick Fox, the vice president of Google Assistant explains.
“The Assistant works better if the language processing can happen on the device,” he says. “It’s quicker if it requires less of a round trip to the cloud.” Google will be working with LG, Sony Mobile and Xiaomi to increase the compatibility of Assistant within their handsets. This is part of its new Assistant Mobile OEM program. Notably, but not unsurprisingly, Samsung is missing from this list. While Google Assistant can be used on Samsung’s Android devices, the South Korean company has favoured developing its own version, Bixby.
The news from the search engine comes ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) which is taking place in Barcelona. At the show it is expected Samsung, Sony and Nokia will all release new handsets based on the Android operating system. In the last two years, Google’s own mobile phone events have been held separately from MWC. Fox says this new partnership with OEMs will allow processing of Assistant data to be completed at faster speeds on Android handsets. He also says the agreements will mean that Google Assistant can be woken – using the trigger of “OK Google” – without the screens of the devices being turned on. This isn’t possible for non-Google phones at the moment.
The reality of these changes means the service will be more deeply integrated into the handsets of other manufacturers. This means Assistant is likely to be used more by device owners and the firm will be able to obtain more usage data. Assistant faces tough competition in the voice assistant market. Amazon’s Alexa, which is part of its Echo speakers, was released first and has been widely adopted. At this year’s CES technology show in Las Vegas, Google heavily advertised its Assistant and Google Home product around the city.
Fox says that the entire voice interface market is “nascent” but believes Google has advantages over its competitors. He says: “From our own point of view, we think we have a substantial technology advantage. Building on top of search and the knowledge we have there, we have a really strong starting point.” As well as working more closely with hardware manufacturers, Google has also announced the Assistant will work in up to 30 languages by the end of the year. At present it only works with eight different languages – the increase means around 95 percent of the Android user base could potentially communicate with Assistant.
Fox says the rapid expansion in supported languages comes from the company’s reliance on AI and machine learning. “Over time, investments in machine learning and AI have helped us to understand language in a deep way,” he says. “A lot of what the Google Assistant does is summarisation of information. How you do that sumarisation is different in different languages. There’s a lot of understanding the nuances and details in the different languages.”
Credits: Wired UK