Author Archives: Monica White


This is the real voice behind Google Assistant

This is the real voice behind Google Assistant

When using Google Assistant, most of us don't even consider who the voice is coming from — after all, it's artificial intelligence, not a real person. Our virtual assistants, be it Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, are always at our beck and call, but we (for the most part) remain well-aware of the fact that they're just lines of code and intricate algorithms. But how would you feel if you knew that Google Assistant has a very human backstory?

In an interview with The Atlantic, James Giangola, the lead conversation and persona designer at Google, spoke about the Assistant at great length. When the team set out to create its AI-based assistant, they knew that the line between a cool, futuristic feature and a mildly creepy if uncanny voice bot is very, very thin. Google Assistant was never meant to seem human — that would just be disturbing — but she was meant to be just human enough to make us feel comfortable. To achieve that elusive feeling of somewhat reserved comfort, Giangola and his team went to great lengths to perfect the Assistant.

You'd think that just hiring a skilled voice actor would be enough, but there was much more to consider than just finding a pleasant voice. James Giangola set out on a quest to make the Google Assistant sound normal and to hide that alien feeling of speaking to a robot. In order to do this, he made up a lengthy backstory for the Assistant.

A robot with an extensive backstory

When searching for the right voice actress and then training her later on, The Atlantic notes that James Giangola came up with a very specific backstory for the AI. He did so because he wanted Google Assistant to appear real, and in order to give it a distinct personality, he gave the voice actress a lengthy background on the Assistant. First and foremost, the Assistant comes from Colorado, which gives her a neutral accent.

She comes from a well-read family and is the youngest daughter of a physics professor (who has a B.A. in art history from Northwestern University, no less) and a research librarian. She once worked for "a very popular late-night-TV satirical pundit" as a personal assistant. She was always a smart kid, she won $100,000 on the Kids Edition of "Jeopardy." Oh, and she also likes kayaking. Let's not forget: She's not real.

The need to create such a specific backstory may seem questionable, and it actually was questioned by James Giangola's colleagues. However, Giangola was able to prove his point during the audition process. When a colleague asked him how does anyone even sound like they're into kayaking, Giangola fired back: "The candidate who just gave an audition — do you think she sounded energetic, like she's up for kayaking?" And she didn't, which to Giangola meant that she wasn't the right voice.

Google aimed for 'upbeat geekiness'

Aside from nailing the exact tone of her voice, which The Atlantic described as "upbeat geekiness," the Assistant had to be trained to sound human not just by voice, but also by speech patterns and rhythms. In the interview, James Giangola talks about some of the different small changes that were made to take the Assistant from robotic to almost natural.

To illustrate the example, Giangola played a recording in which the AI had to contradict a user who wanted to book something on June 31. It had to be done in a delicate, natural-sounding manner that still delivers the required information. When prompted, the Assistant replied: "Actually, June has only 30 days," achieving the level of vocal realism Giangola was looking for.

Although the Assistant's intricate backstory may seem overkill, it seems to have helped Google find the right voice actress. According to Tech Bezeer, the main voice of the Assistant is Antonia Flynn, who was cast back in 2016. However, Google is not very forthcoming with information about who exactly voices each version of the Assistant, so this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The information originates from Reddit, where a user was able to track Flynn down based on her voice, but only Google knows whether she really is the friendly AI inside our mobile devices.

Elon Musk’s brain chip company Neuralink aims for clinical trials

Elon Musk’s brain chip company Neuralink aims for clinical trials

Thinking of Elon Musk usually produces an image of a Tesla or simply a mountain of money, but soon enough, this might change. Musk is the co-founder of Neuralink, a company that produces microchips meant to one day help paralyzed people navigate the world with their brain. The development of the microchips is well underway, and the company has just started recruiting staff to soon begin clinical trials on humans.

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Canon EOS R5 C revealed with 8K video and hybrid intent

Canon EOS R5 C revealed with 8K video and hybrid intent

Canon has just unveiled its upcoming Canon EOS R5 C hybrid camera, set to release in March 2022. The camera is said to offer equally good performance in terms of taking still photos as it does in video recordings. With 8K video recording capabilities and a 45-megapixel photo resolution, it just might be quite the powerhouse of a camera.

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Google just got terrible news in Europe – and it could get much worse

Google just got terrible news in Europe – and it could get much worse

Google was just hit by some very bad news coming from Europe, but the news may be even worse for website owners than for Google itself. In an unprecedented case, the court in Austria has just ruled that Google Analytics is in violation with the European data protection laws. As a result, Google Analytics has been made illegal in Austria.

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TikTok is divided on this gamer gum meant to help focus

TikTok is divided on this gamer gum meant to help focus

We've all heard of gamers chugging energy drinks like water during long gaming sessions, but a chewing gum made specifically for gamers is certainly a novelty. Dubbed the Razer Respawn By 5, this completely normal-looking gum is marketed towards gamers as a way to increase their focus, the gum's website notes. When a TikTok user tried it in a video, the comment section was, unsurprisingly, quite divided. What is the flavor of this gum, does it actually work, and more importantly, why?

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Google is putting an end to free legacy G Suite

Google is putting an end to free legacy G Suite

It seems that Google is finally pulling the plug on the free version of G Suite. The company announced that the legacy free edition plan will be unavailable starting from May 1, 2022, at which point free users will be transitioned to Google Workspace and will be allowed to keep using the service without paying for it for another two months (until July 1, 2022.) After that, Google will likely fully retire G Suite and continue offering Google Workspace for paying users.

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Microsoft Edge takes ‘huge step’ toward stopping hacker threats

Microsoft Edge takes ‘huge step’ toward stopping hacker threats

Microsoft has just released an update for the Microsoft Edge Beta Channel with a focus on security, with Microsoft adding a new browsing mode to Edge that will emphasize staying safe from various online attacks. Protective measures added to the browser will allow the admins of various networks to protect the users from zero day threats. The term "zero day threat" is used to describe previously unknown threat which exploits flaws in the software which are only discovered during a cybersecurity attack.

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Twitter is shocked by Elon Musk’s smartphone fact

Twitter is shocked by Elon Musk’s smartphone fact

Twitter, as a community, has a tendency to lose its mind over just about anything—but this time, the reason really is quite mind-blowing. In a short Twitter exchange, Elon Musk pointed out that over 80% of the world's population owns a smartphone. Are these numbers really that high, and more importantly, has anyone ever expected this to happen?

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Garmin’s new smartwatches pack solar charging for ultra-long battery life

Garmin’s new smartwatches pack solar charging for ultra-long battery life

Garmin has just announced the upcoming release of two new smartwatches. One of them is a refreshed version of Garmin fēnix, the company's flagship smartwatch, and the other is the next-generation Garmin epix series. The watches each come with a long list of bells and whistles, and they were both designed to make workouts easier, more efficient, and more fun.

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TikTok is fascinated by this television that you can taste

TikTok is fascinated by this television that you can taste

Just when we thought we've already seen it all, a Japanese professor has invented a TV screen that you can taste—and TikTok is fascinated. As reported by Reuters, the new Taste the TV (TTTV) comes with 10 flavor canisters that can mimic the taste of countless foods. While the novelty television has a lot of potential, TikTok is more focused on what exactly you could taste if you tried to lick it.

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Apple’s big 2022 AR headset plans may have derailed

Apple’s big 2022 AR headset plans may have derailed

Only a few days have passed since we last talked about the Apple augmented reality/mixed reality (AR/MR) headset, and we already have more to report. Unfortunately, this time, the news isn't great. According to Bloomberg, Apple's rumored AR headset may be delayed and we may not see it hitting the shelves until as late as 2023.

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Dogecoin added to Tesla store

Dogecoin added to Tesla store

In a surprising turn of events, you can now buy Tesla merchandise with Dogecoin. Tesla's website has been updated to reflect this change, and there are a few items listed that now only accept the meme-like cryptocurrency as payment. That's right — the merchandise sold for Dogecoin can no longer be bought with US dollars and requires the customer to own crypto in order to make a purchase.

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