Smart, AI-powered, virtual assistants are undoubtedly helpful, at least to those who have actually found uses for them. For better or worse, however, all of them have to be manually “woken up”, usually by a trigger phrase. It’s a bit of a hassle, especially when you’re already standing in front of your smart speaker or smart display. It seems that Google is playing around with a feature that lets a Nest Hub detect your presence and automatically wake up Google Assistant, a convenience that may come at the expense of some privacy.
Hotwords or phrases aren’t just there to “wake up” a smart assistant or smart speaker. These days, they’re also mostly there to actually protect the user’s privacy by not recording everything it hears. In fact, some don’t even connect to the Internet until the hotword is detected.
There will always be those that find that system tedious and might not be so concerned about the privacy implications of something that may always be listening and recording. Google, however, may be experimenting on a sort of compromise. According to tipster Jan Boromeusz, his Nest Hub Max unit apparently has a “Dogfood” (experimental) feature named “Blue Steel” (a Zoolander reference) that use proximity detection to bring up Google Assistant without a hotword.
The way the feature works is still undetermined at this point, whether it uses ultrasound or the device’s webcam to detect nearby presence. It seems that Google Assistant will also automatically go back to sleep if no further movement or speech is made after the silent trigger.
Of course, this feature would come at the price of accidentally recording and uploading conversations just because someone stepped within the Nest Hub’s vicinity. There is, however, no assurance that Google will even push such a feature. Given what could be an early backlash against it, it could very well back out from implementing it fully.