Does Google Assistant always say your name wrong, or maybe the names of people you know? You can soon teach the digital assistant how to pronounce them correctly.
Google announced an update rolling out soon to Assistant, available on smartphones and Google Home speakers, that will allow users to teach it how to properly pronounce your name or those in your contacts.
Google said the feature will initially be available in English but will roll out to offer more languages soon.
“Names matter, and it’s frustrating when you’re trying to send a text or make a call and Google Assistant mispronounces or simply doesn’t recognize a contact,” said Yury Pinsky, director of product management at Google, in a blog post published Wednesday. “We want Assistant to accurately recognize and pronounce people’s names as often as possible, especially those that are less common.”
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There have been multiple examples of voice assistants and speech recognition tools struggling to recognize speech from non-white users or those with accents.
A Stanford University study released last year found speech recognition tools from companies, including Apple, Microsoft and IBM made twice as many errors interpreting words from Black users than white users.
Meanwhile, a February article from Mother Jones points to the troubles assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant have with accents and dialects. Author Sinduja Rangarajan writes about how her Google Home smart speaker struggled to recognize the name of a Bollywood song she and her daughter requested. Over time, the virtual assistant was better able to recognize their requests as they pronounced names with more of an American accent, Rangarajan wrote.
“The gadget that had entered our house as a helper had turned into an intruder,” said Rangarajan. “Not just an intruder that could listen to our private conversations, but an intruder that was telling us how we should speak our own language in our own home.”
As for other updates coming to Google Assistant, the virtual tool will add features to help it better understand the context of commands sent by users. For example, if you’re running multiple timers or alarms, it’s easier for the Assistant to distinguish between them if you want to cancel or edit only one.
The changes arrives as Americans increase their time spent using digital assistant like Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. According to July 2020 projections from research firm eMarketer, about 128 million Americans were estimated to use a voice assistant at least monthly. By 2022, that number is expected to top 135 million.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.