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Assistant thinks on the fly, and other Android updates coming soon

Meanwhile, Google’s machine learning capabilities underpin the new Live Captions accessibility feature in Android Q, which can superimpose real-time audio captions over video playing in any app. Some apps and devices should also be able to send captions to a television via Chromecast streaming, with the long-term goal to offer live translated captions.

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When it comes to privacy, Google’s Incognito mode is extending beyond the Chrome browser and YouTube to also apply to search results and Google Maps. When enabled, it will ensure that activities aren’t linked back to a specific Google account. The move comes as Google introduces the ability to automatically delete old user data, such as search and location history, after three or 18 months.

Android’s Google Duplex is also expanding, after last year’s demonstration of a Google Assistant calling a restaurant and impersonating a human to book a table, with the person on the other end unaware they were talking to a machine. Duplex, which is available only in the US, is set to gain the ability to automatically complete complex multi-page forms based on user preferences, to automate processes such as booking a car rental via a mobile website.

Other upcoming Android features include system-wide dark mode, folding phone support, genderless emoji and improved family controls.

One of Android’s biggest changes is the move to run Google Assistant completely on the device; allowing it to comprehend spoken requests and execute many tasks instantly rather than needing to connect to internet and wait for a response.

The “next-generation Google Assistant” will come to the flagship Pixel handsets later this year but may eventually come to other devices.

The move to run Google Assistant onboard is possible thanks to Google’s advancements in deep learning, which have helped it condense the 100GB of data required to power Google Assistant down to less than 1GB.

In return, Google Assistant responds to requests up to 10 times faster. An on-stage demonstration saw it respond instantly to a string of different commands – from sending messages to checking the weather forecast – without the traditional lag time.

The improvement is part of a push to make interacting with Google Assistant less laborious and more intuitive. This includes “Continued Conversation”; removing the need to say “OK Google” before each request in an ongoing conversation.

The onboard storage and processing power required to run Google Assistant independently restricts which devices can be used. This will change as the technology continues to evolve, as demonstrated by the work invested into bring many high-end smartphone features from the Pixel 3 to the less powerful Pixel 3a.

The author travelled to California as a guest of Google.

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian technology journalist and co-host of weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News.

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