“Smart” is a relative term when you talk about the digital assistants that run voice-activated mobile phones and home speakers. Sure these assistants might have instantaneous access to all the knowledge in their native programing and enabled apps, but they struggle to deliver that knowledge to everyone and anyone despite which language it being spoken. And they can’t deal with a simple reality of many households: being bilingual.
Google is addressing this language gap with some upgrades to its program.
When Google Assistant launched, it was only available in English. That seems like a misstep, but in about a year, they were able to add support for eight additional languages to their product. Google Assistant can now communicate with users that speaker English, Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Brazilian, and Japanese.
Google is committing to upping their diversity to at least 30 supported languages before the start of 2019. That will put them ahead of Apple’s assistant, Siri, which can currently support 20 languages and several dialects. If Google is able to hit this target, their smart assistant be very effectively for their audience; covering over 90 percent of those that use Android devices. Among the over 20 languages that Google will need to add this year are Thai, Dutch, Swedish, Hindi, Norwegian, Danish and Indonesian. Apple has already added Mandarin and Cantonese, so hopefully Google plans to add those major languages as well, since they have been vocal that this update will not be the last.
Another major upgrade coming to the Google Assistant is the ability to support multiple languages in a single device. Right now, Assistant can only support a single language, so those that are multi-lingual or live in a multi-lingual have been left out in the cold. This upgrade will allow Assistant to identify which language is being spoken during an interaction so that it can reply using that same language. This will be done without the user having to go into the settings to select their language. That was the previous process, and it was a pain to constantly change, so multi-lingual users were forced to pick a single dominant language for their Assistant. Now, users can speak in the language that is appropriate for their setting, whether they are at home with family or at lunch with friends. This is a welcome change that will help conversations with the artificial intelligence feel more natural, and it reflects Google’s mission for its Assistant to have a “global” impact.
There will be some limitations to this feature, though. The first is that while multiple languages can be supported, only one can be used at a time. So, a single voice command should be spoken in only one language. That command could be followed up with a new command in a different language, but they must still remain exclusive.
The second is that the multiple language feature will launch with support of only three languages: English, French and German.
So, progress is being made but there is still a long way to go!