Google Ascent of the Assistant

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2019, file photo shows the Google Assistant, which includes an "interpreter mode" that enables some of Google's smart home devices to work as a translator, at the Google display area at CES International in Las Vegas. Google Assistant has made for a name for itself in a voice technology market once dominated by Amazon and Apple. Google is expected to announce updates to its voice assistant and smart home products Tuesday, May 7, at its annual developers conference. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When Google launched its now distinctive digital assistant in 2016, it was already in danger of being an also-ran.

At the time, Amazon had been selling its Echo smart speaker, powered by its Alexa voice assistant, for more than a year. Apple’s Siri was already five years old and familiar to most iPhone users. Google’s main entry in the field up to that point was Google Now, a phone-bound app that took voice commands but didn’t answer back.

Now the Google Assistant — known primarily as the voice of the Google Home smart speaker — is increasingly central to Google’s new products. And even though it remains commercially overshadowed by Alexa, it keeps pushing the boundaries of what artificial intelligence can accomplish in everyday settings.

For instance, Google last year announced an Assistant service called Duplex, which it said can actually call up restaurants and make reservations for you. Duplex isn’t yet widely available yet outside of Google’s own Pixel phones in the U.S. Alexa and Siri so far offer nothing similar.

Google is expected to announce updates and expansions to its AI Assistant at its annual developer conference Tuesday.

As Assistant and Alexa get smarter, faster and more personalized, analysts expect their reach to become broader and more ubiquitous. The speakers, said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock, are “getting people used to talking to their devices.” Eventually, she says, if you can speak to your microwave and TV and lights directly, you won’t need the speakers — except maybe to play music.

Google I/O kicks off at 10 a.m. today in Mountain View.

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