Say “Bonjour” and “Hello” to Google’s New Bilingual AI

Google Assistant, the search-engine giant’s virtual assistant (comparable to Apple’s “Siri” or  Amazon’s “Alexa”), has expanded its linguistic capabilities.

It can now respond to two languages being spoken interchangeably. For instance, a user could say, “Hey Google, set una alarma para seven o’clock, por favor,” and the Google Assistant would set the appropriate alarm. Previously, the Assistant could understand two languages only if those two languages were pre-selected in its settings and could only process one language at a time.

For the time, the Google Assistant’s range of languages is limited to English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese, but Google has said it will expand its language capabilities in the coming months.

The new bilingual support is available for all Google’s devices and eventually will be integrated with other, third-party appliances, such as thermostats or ovens, that can be connected to Google Home and operated by speaking to a connected Google Home device.

The multilingual assistant works by recognizing the languages spoken and keeping track of user preferences, such as favorite musicians. Then the system ranks these preferences using an algorithm and responds using the most likely preferred language.

Google said it wants to bring a “hands-free experience for multilingual households.”The company started working on its spoken language identification system in 2013 and claims its system can now distinguish between more than 2,000 language pairs. Google has said its goal is for the Assistant to recognize languages faster and with more certainty, thereby speeding up its ability to respond to user commands.

The development comes just as the Google Assistant, and the various devices that support it, are catching up to its competitors – Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Google Assistant’s sophisticated language capabilities may be one factor in Google’s recent success.

Google entered the virtual assistant market two years behind Amazon. After trailing the online retailer for two further years, Google Home sales surpassed Amazon Echo sales in the first quarter of 2018, according to one market analyst. That fact, however, is only speculative as Google, Amazon, and Apple do not release specific sales numbers for their virtual-assistant devices (the Google Home, Echo, and HomePod, respectively).

Google, Amazon, and Apple are pitting their “ecosystems” of products and services against one another. The virtual assistant is one of the threads that binds together all the various devices of each company. The recent success of the Google Home, therefore, bodes well for the tech behemoth.

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