Google Assistant Can Now Speak With Australian and British Accents
Today, Google Assistant is launching two new voices to English speaking U.S. users: an Australian-accented and a British-accented voice. All of the features are still the same, the voice is the only change. Google suggests asking your device “Hey Google, what’s the exchange rate from British pound to U.S. dollar?” or “Hey Google, what’s the capital of Australia?”
Users must go into the Settings -> Assistant -> Assistant Voice on the mobile app to activate these voices. The two new voice options are called “Sydney Harbor Blue” and “British Racing Green.” The voices were created using a speech synthesis model, known as WaveNet, which was developed by DeepMind. WaveNet uses deep neural networks to generate raw audio waveforms, ultimately resulting in more realistic and natural sounding voices.
Voices With Accents
A longtime criticism of voice assistants has been that they are biased to English, specifically the Standard American English accent. Some have deemed this issue “the accent gap.” These criticisms point to issues with speech recognition, rather than text to speech development which is used to generate the voices of assistants. Siri already offers American, Australian, British, Irish, and South African accents. However, the introduction of voices with accents is still significant for Google Assitant as it reflects that voice assistants as a whole have a possibly deeper interest in accents and users with accents. Representation matters to users too, and even though British and Australian accents may not be the most diverse options, it is a start.
Of course, these accents already were options for U.K. and Australian users of Google Assistant. In each market, the default voice assistant accent is matched to local standards. This announcement is about making synthetic speech customized for one country available in other geographies. Google Assistant has consistently taken the lead in understanding spoken accents and also offers bilingual support. It will be interesting to see if more accents are offered over time and how frequently these become the default choices of consumers.