Issa Rae Cameos for Google Assistant
Insecure creator Issa Rae is taking on a new role as a voice for Google Assistant. The actress lends her voice to the digital assistant on the smartphone app and the sundry smart speakers and smart displays powered by Google Assistant.
Issa Rae Talks Back
Google Assistant users can say “Hey Google, talk like Issa,” or adjust the settings manually in the app to bring Issa Rae to their device. Rae will answer questions about the weather, tell jokes, and even try to boost your confidence if you ask her for Mirror Talk. There are also some semi-hidden Easter Eggs to be found if you ask her to tell you something awkward or a few other questions. The Issa Rae cameo is free to add to Google Assistant, but won’t be available indefinitely.
Rae is the second celebrity to make an appearance on Google Assistant after singer John Legend joined in April. Rae and Legend both recorded audio for the responses from Google Assistant, but Legend also took another step. His responses are a mix of previously recorded audio and a synthesized version of his voice made by Google through WaveNet, the DeepMind technology the company uses to simulate human voices. Instead of selecting and playing a particular recording, Google Assistant can determine the answer to a question and relay it in Legend’s voice.
The Jackson Option
Rae and Legend’s cameos have a limited lifespan, and are more of a fun extra and marketing gimmick for the Google Assistant rather than an entirely new voice. The technology to replace the default voice assistant voice with a real person’s is around, however. Amazon announced last month that Samuel L. Jackson would be the first celebrity voice for Alexa, and in more than a cameo.
Applying Amazon’s neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology, recordings made by Jackson are being used to teach Alexa how to sound like the actor regardless of the query or response. There are some unique pieces of audio as well that Jackson recorded for Alexa. And, while the technology is flexible, it’s still evolving, meaning that Alexa’s default voice will return to carry out some tasks such as interacting with other voice skills or setting a reminder. The Jackson voice skill also comes in both explicit and non-explicit versions.
The appeal of celebrity voices on a voice assistant is obvious. For one thing, it’s simply good PR to get people to identify popular celebrities with the voice assistant. It adds cross-promotional possibilities with fans as well. All of that leads to people being willing to at least try the voice assistant. While increased user engagement might be mostly temporary, there may be at least a few converts to the brand.
Amazon has explicitly said it is working on additional voices, and Google sees enough value in it to at least keep experimenting with the idea. In June, the Adobe Analytics Voice Report found that a third of the participants would like to have a celebrity voice as an option, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the most popular option. Will Smith. Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris Rock, and Oprah Winfrey made up the rest of the top choices. None of the current celebrity voice options are on the list, but that could change if people enjoy using them enough that the developers see financial value in signing more celebrities to join their voice assistant platforms.