Google Assistant Will Stay on Hold for You on New Pixel Smartphones
Google Assistant will listen to the repetitive hold music, so you don’t have to, thanks to the new Hold for Me feature Google announced at the Launch Night In virtual event. The new phone option, which has been rumored to be on its way for a year, uses the voice assistant as a kind of AI secretary during wait times. Hold for Me will be available on the newly revealed Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G smartphones, but will likely expand to other models soon.
The new feature brings Google Assistant into phone calls made to toll-free numbers. When the caller is put on hold, they can tap on Google Assistant, activating the feature. The AI listens for a human coming on the line, discerning between a recorded message and an actual person, as seen in the demo above. When the call is put through to a person, Google Assistant alerts the caller with a sound, vibration, and screen alert, depending on your settings. It will even tell the customer service representative that they need to hold a moment while you get back on the call.
“Hold for Me is our latest effort to make phone calls better and save you time,” Google product managers Andrew Goodman and Joseph Cherukara explained in a blog post about the new feature. “While Google Assistant waits on hold for you, Google’s natural language understanding also keeps you informed. Your call will be muted to let you focus on something else, but at any time, you can check real-time captions on your screen to know what’s happening on the call.”
Google made sure to highlight the privacy measures of the new feature in its announcement, likely to assuage concerns that information on who people are calling will get collected by the tech giant. The Hold for Me feature uses on-edge audio processing, meaning it runs entirely on the device and doesn’t need to send data to the cloud or use the internet to operate. The audio and transcription processing stops once the user gets back on the call, and the recording of the time on hold is only saved on the phone if the user chooses.
Hold for Me performs in reverse the call screening feature Google debuted at the Pixel 3 launch, providing transcripts and recordings of interactions with incoming calls. In that case, Google Assistant fields incoming calls instead of helping with outgoing ones, but the secretarial role is similar. To make Hold for Me function, Google relied on Google Duplex, a service that uses voice AI to call businesses and book appointments on behalf of a client. Duplex powers Hold for Me’s ability to discern when a human comes on the line. Google said it designed the way Hold for Me interacts with employees using data gathered from surveys of people customer support and call centers of big companies. Applying Duplex to the new feature marks just how far Duplex has come since it in the U.S. in 2018. After weathering criticism that some Google Duplex calls were being made by humans, the service started adding new features like letting businesses opt-out of recordings and transferring them to the humans who also annotate the phone calls. It then expanded to New Zealand last October, followed by Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom in April.