Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Tuesday during the company’s annual I/O developer conference that it is adding six new voices for its virtual assistant, including that of R&B star John Legend. The voices will be available for phones, Google Home smart speakers, and other devices.
Pichai told the audience this was possible due to a breakthrough six months ago from Google’s DeepMind A.I. team in its WaveNet technology, which stiches together speech recordings by analyzing the underlying raw audio to create a realistic-sounding voice.
A video ran on the conference stage showing Legend recording phrases that might be useful for Google Assistant in the company’s studio.
“Couscous: a type of North a type of North African semolina in granules made from crushed durum wheat,” Legend says at one point, appearing to be reading the definition from the Google Dictionary. Later on, he says, “I want a puppy with sweet eyes and a fluffy tail who likes my haikus.” He subsequently sings the Happy Birthday song.
Pichai demoed the Legend-infused voice assistant giving him updates on the weather and reminders about his schedule. He noted, “Clearly [Legend] didn’t spend all the time in the studio answering every possible question that you could ask, but WaveNet allowed us to shorten the studio time and the model can actually capture the richness of his voice.”
Scott Huffman, VP of Google Assistant, also took the stage to announce additional upgrades. Users will soon not have to say “hey Google” every time they want Assistant to respond. This is thanks to a feature called “Continued Conversation,” which allows for more natural back-and-forth dialogue and purportedly recognizes when a person is talking to it or not. Assistant will also soon be able to respond to multipart requests and encourage good manners among children by complimenting them when they use the term please.