Google Assistant gets a host of upgrades on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro | TechCrunch

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At a hardware event this morning, Google announced the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, its latest flagship smartphones. Among the highlights are a temperature sensor, off-device video processing and enhanced photo-editing tools. But both also pack a significantly upgraded set of AI features courtesy Google Assistant, Google’s AI-powered assistant tech.

On the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, Google Assistant can summarize, read aloud and translate web pages — an improved version of the “read aloud” feature that Google introduced on Android several years ago. Whereas Assistant previously read aloud every word on a web page, including unrelated content above and below articles, Google’s AI can now paraphrase what’s on screen into key points leveraging generative models (albeit not in every language or country just yet).

We’ll have to see just how accurate those summaries are — this reporter is a tad skeptical of AI’s summarization skills. But if it works as advertised, Assistant-driven summarization could be a useful, time-saving feature indeed.

Meanwhile, Assistant voice typing on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro is twice as fast in English (Google claims) and allows you to type, edit and send messages across multiple languages. Assistant automatically detects — and switches to — the language you’re speaking when transcribing voices. And Assistant now understands more natural conversations, picking up on pauses and disfluencies (e.g. “ahs” and “ums”) for English users in the U.S. to start.

Speaking of more natural conversations, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are among the first to benefit from Assistant’s more “realistic-sounding” voice, which will engage with callers that users screen via Google’s Call Screen feature. (Call Screen, launched several years ago on the Pixel 6, can answer phone calls on a user’s behalf and provides features and options to deal with those calls.) The upgraded Call Screen, underpinned by “multi-step, multi-turn conversational AI,” employs a “more natural-sounding series of voice prompts” to determine who’s calling and why — initially available for English-language callers.

Clear Calling, the background-noise-reduction feature that debuted on the Pixel 7, has been improved for clearer-sounding calls. And Call Screen is also now better at detecting and filtering out spam calls, Google says.

During a demo at today’s event, Google showed the Assistant silently answering a call from an unknown number, having a back-and-forth conversation to determine if the call might be from a spammer. This will be extended further soon, Google says, with contextual replies that’ll let users navigate phone trees via the Assistant without having to take a call. And Call Screen will come to the Pixel Watch later this year.

Elsewhere on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, the Assistant-powered At a Glance widget on the home screen has been updated with a new design. It also shows more “useful info,” Google says, including updates on travel, event tickets and more.

The enhancements, taken together, are the first visible sign of Google’s new generative-AI-first strategy with Google Assistant. Axios reported earlier this year that Google intended to “reboot” Assistant, focusing on developing new capabilities for Assistant that use generative AI — including capabilities that integrate with Bard, Google’s answer to OpenAI’s viral ChatGPT chatbot. (To that end, Google unveiled a range of new Assistant tie-ins with Bard during today’s event.)

As with other Assistant features that’ve launched on new Pixel devices first, we’d expect more than a few to come to previous-gen Pixel smartphones in the coming months.

Read more about Google's 2023 Pixel Event on TechCrunch


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