Google Teases Feature That Allows Assistant to Read Webpages to You in Dozens of Languages

Illustration for article titled Google Teases Feature That Allows Assistant to Read Webpages to You in Dozens of Languages
Screenshot: Android (YouTube)

Google has unveiled a potentially helpful new feature that will allow Google Assistant to read websites back to the user as well as translate them to more than three dozen languages.

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During CES, which is currently ongoing in Las Vegas, the tech giant previewed a handful of tools coming to the Assistant later this year. Its advancements in speech and language, however, could prove its reading function extremely useful, particularly for folks with visual impairment. To boot, the company says the function will allow the Assistant to translate an article into 42 languages.

In order to access the tool when it rolls out for Android later this year, users need only prompt the Assistant by saying “Hey Google, read it” or “Hey Google, read this page” on their Android device. In addition to the reader function, Google is also hoping to incorporate additional tools, such as an auto-scroll function and text-highlighting feature.

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“Unlike traditional screen readers, this experience is built on new voice datasets to create more expressive and more natural sounding voices, so it’s easier to listen for a longer period of time,” Manuel Bronstein, VP of product for Google Assistant, wrote in a blog post about the feature. “There are many potential ways in which this can be helpful, but one area we’re exploring is reading webpages with long-form content on your phone—like a news article, blog or short story—out loud.”

Google said it built on voice datasets for the tool. Using a robotic-sounding voice without any natural cadence wouldn’t be conducive to listening to long-form content, and many listeners would likely find it distracting. For this tool, Google focused on making the voices sound more “natural” and “expressive” while reading content aloud.

David Kadouch, Google’s product lead for research and machine intelligence, said in a video that the company’s goal is to create a “smooth, fast, and natural-sounding experience” for the Assistant reader. The team considers three primary areas—stress, intonation, and rhythm—to make the voice sound more human. And while a short demo clip indicates that there’s still a lot of room for improvement, it does—to its credit—sound smooth to the extent that you could probably listen to it for the entirety of the length of an article without too much distraction.

Google says the tool will be available later this year on Android phones versions 5 and above.

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