Google is taking sign-ups for Relate, a voice assistant that recognizes impaired speech

Google launched a beta app today that people with speech impairments can use as a voice assistant while contributing to a multiyear research effort to improve Google’s speech recognition. The goal is to make Google Assistant, as well as other features that use speech to text and speech to speech, more inclusive of users with neurological conditions that affect their speech.

The new app is called Project Relate, and volunteers can sign up at To be eligible to participate, volunteers need to be 18 or older and “have difficulty being understood by others.” They’ll also need a Google account and an Android phone using OS 8 or later. For now, it’s only available to English speakers in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They’ll be tasked with recording 500 phrases, which should take between 30 to 90 minutes to record.

After sharing their voice samples, volunteers will get access to three new features on the Relate App. It can transcribe their speech in real time. It also has a feature called “Repeat” that will restate what the user said in “a clear, synthesized voice.” That can help people with speech impairments when having conversations or when using voice commands for home assistant devices. The Relate App also connects to Google Assistant to help users turn on the lights or play a song with their voices.

Without enough training data, other Google apps like Translate and Assistant haven’t been very accessible for people with conditions like ALS, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or Parkinson’s disease. In 2019, Google started Project Euphonia, a broad effort to improve its AI algorithms by collecting data from people with impaired speech. Google is also training its algorithms to recognize sounds and gestures so that it can better help people who cannot speak. That work is still ongoing; Google and its partners still appear to be collecting patients’ voices separately for Project Euphonia.

“I’m used to the look on people’s faces when they can’t understand what I’ve said,” Aubrie Lee, a brand manager at Google whose speech is affected by muscular dystrophy, said in a blog post today. “Project Relate can make the difference between a look of confusion and a friendly laugh of recognition.”

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AI-powered writing assistant Writer nabs $21M

Writer, which bills itself as an AI writing assistant for marketing teams, today announced that it raised $21 million. (Writer’s total now stands at $25 million.) Insight Partners led the series A round with participation from Gradient Ventures, which Writer CEO May Habib says will be put toward customer acquisition initiatives and headcount growth.

Writer’s growth comes as marketers increasingly look to AI to bolster their customer outreach. According to McKinsey, 80% of high-performing companies have adopted AI in marketing and sales for tasks like pricing, prediction of likelihood to buy, and customer service analytics.

“Our vision is great writing for everyone,” Habib said in a statement. “Most teams don’t have the editorial resources to ensure strong writing and consistent messaging across large amounts of content, so we provide a seamless way to help everyone at a company write well, write fast, and be on-brand.”

AI-powered suggestions

San Francisco, California-based Writer, formerly Qordoba, was founded by Habib and Waseem Alshikh in 2015. Alshikh was previously the CEO at iMena, a holding company with news, ecommerce, and classified ads businesses operating in the Middle East and North Africa. Habib was VP at one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, where she was the first employee on the technology investment team.


The two started Writer out of a mutual desire to build software that helps companies write more clear, consistent marketing copy. Leveraging AI, Writer’s platform delivers guidelines that help organizations align content spanning communications, marketing, product, and human resources documents.

On the AI side, Writer employs an engine that evaluates things like plagiarism, sentence complexity, tone, paragraph length, spelling and grammar, formality, active voice usage, and other key metrics. Beyond this, the platform lets companies create a “single source of truth” for brand terms that users can build, edit, and share. For example, teams can provide examples of usage with descriptions and guidance and use tags, filters, statuses, and edit history to organize terms into a taxonomy across apps including Chrome, Microsoft Word, and Figma.

“From single sentences to page-long templates, make it easy for your team to reuse your approved content,” Writer explains on its website. “Preserve formatting, lists, and links, and include variable placeholders for dynamic content. Organize your snippets into a library with tags, filters, and statuses so they’re easily findable.”

With Writer’s snippet shortcuts feature, users can call up a snippet anywhere they write with a shortcut, or search in-line for content. And with Writer’s admin functions, team leaders can set editorial style rules for punctuation and capitalization while enforcing reading grade level requirements across the organization.

Writer offers style guide management with templates and examples, allowing users to link to rules, term banks, and snippets libraries. The fonts, colors, and branding on style guide pages are customizable, and the pages can be published to the web for public consumption.


Enterprises are boosting their investments in tools like Writer that tap natural language processing (NLP), the subfield of linguistics and AI concerned with how algorithms analyze large amounts of language data. According to a survey from John Snow Labs and Gradient Flow, 60% of tech leaders indicated that their NLP budgets grew by at least 10% compared to 2020, while a third — 33% — said that their spending climbed by more than 30%.

Writer has competition in Grammarly, which similarly provides an AI-powered writing assistant for a range of use cases. But Writer asserts that Grammarly doesn’t boast the same style guide and “voice alignment” capabilities, nor features like gender-neutral pronoun and “plain language” conversion.

Writer counts Pinterest,, Accenture, Deloitte, Twitter, and Intuit as customers. This year, annual recurring revenue tripled as the startup’s customer base reached 150 brands.


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SportsBettingDime and OpenAI put AI to the assistant coach test

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That motivational speech a coach or business executive gives you might one day soon be generated by an AI assistant alongside other bits of timely advice and insight.

SportsBettingDime, in collaboration with research lab OpenAI, has been experimenting with AI in the form of a GPT-3 text editor to emulate a coach that provides both play-calling advice and motivational speeches based on the situation a team is currently facing. GPT-3 is an AI language model developed by OpenAI that employs a Transformer model to create content in any voice, style, or tone by leveraging assets freely available on the internet.

The basic idea is to aggregate play calls made by other head coaches facing similar situations alongside all the best motivational speeches ever given by head coaches. The GPT-3 text editor then makes suggestions concerning what calls to make and is even capable of synthesizing speeches given by different head coaches to create a new speech.

OpenAI then asked “superfans” to rate both the play calls and the speeches given. The fans didn’t always think much of the play calls being suggested when the game was on the line. In an NBA game down 2 points with 10 seconds left on offense, AI would run a set play that specifically looked for a 2-point jump shot to tie the game. Many NBA superfans would deviate from that strategy, with 28.2% opting to run a set play for a 3-pointer to win the game. In an NFL game, following a touchdown with no time left and being down 1 point, AI would go for a 2-point conversion to win the game instead of a less risky extra point to tie. The AI play calls, however, may still represent the best chance to win the game. After all, fans don’t always make the right call themselves.


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The motivational speeches received higher marks. Out of the five speeches fans were asked to rate, two of the three AI speeches created took the top two spots, with motivational ratings of 6.82 and 6.47. However, a third AI speech was also rated by far the lowest (6.07).

Both of the real coach speeches were identifiable by fans as given by an actual coach. The realness of AI speeches was a mixed bag, with one speech netting a 66.4% real-sounding rating; the other two were rated below 60% for realness. The main limitation identified by researchers is how real the AI-generated speeches can actually sound.

Coaching beyond sports

The study is part of an ongoing effort to determine to what degree AI might be capable of becoming a viable tool to enable other types of leaders to make more informed decisions, said Kristin Tynski, a project manager for SportsBettingDime. “You could apply it to business executives,” she said.

In theory at least, if an AI platform knows what strategies were employed by business leaders that faced a similar challenge, it could provide timely advice to the “head coach” of a business.

It may be a while before AI can deliver on that promise, but it’s worth noting that many of the challenges business leaders encounter today are not new. Other business executives have faced similar challenges that might be readily captured in published case studies in outlets such as the Harvard Business Review.

Humans can come up with any number of innovative approaches to overcoming a particular business challenge. However, people will waste a lot of time agonizing over small issues when a solution to the problem is readily at hand. One way or another, just about everybody will one day have their own personal digital assistant coach. The degree to which anyone will act on that advice naturally will vary based on both mood and previous experiences.


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Google Assistant can now help order takeout from restaurants online

The pandemic has made ordering restaurant takeout a little less of a guilty pleasure, both because it’s safer and it helps support local businesses. Google is now trying to make the process faster, too, by having Google Assistant fill in contact information and payment details automatically on Android phones after you find a restaurant via Google Search.

To use the new feature, you have to search for whatever restaurant you’d like to order from in the Google app, then select the “Order Online” button on the restaurant’s information card. After making your food selections, you can tag in Google Assistant to complete the order using your stored contact and payment information from Google Pay and Chrome Autofill. Assistant then confirms you’re ready to pay, and the order is placed.

There are also some big limitations to be aware of: Google tells The Verge that Assistant will only be able to help with pickup orders for now, with deliveries coming at some point in the future. It also only works with restaurants Google has partnered with for online ordering, and it can only be initiated from the Google app on an Android phone. Google plans to add more restaurants in the US later this year.

Google claims Duplex is what powers this new takeout trick, which might seem unusual given the tech’s origins. Duplex was initially introduced as a way to automate making reservations and appointments over the phone, only to have the name later applied to automated form-filling for online car rentals and movie ticket purchases. As what Google says Duplex does has expanded, voice has become less central, but the basic theme is still that it’ll handle some busywork automatically for you.

All of these newer Duplex features have less immediate wow-factor than the original phone reservation demo, but could be more convenient: parsing and filling out online forms is an all too common online activity, especially when dealing with a restaurant you might only order from once. Having Assistant do the busywork makes sense — and is less creepy and confusing than a robotic phone call.

Google Assistant’s “find my phone” notification will even work with iPhone’s as long as notifications are enabled.
Image: Google

Google also has a couple of other new Assistant features coming in the near term: Smart home automated routines that can be set to trigger at sunrise or sunset, and there’s a more useful “find my phone” feature for Apple devices, too.

You’ve been able to ask a Google Home device to find find iPhones and iPads for a while now, but the feature didn’t work if the missing device was set to silent or didn’t have an internet connection. Now if you opt into receiving “notifications and critical alerts” from the Google Home app, Assistant can ring a missing Apple device even if it has Do Not Disturb turned on.

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Google Assistant might soon be able to turn off your Android phone

Google’s smart AI-powered virtual assistant has definitely gotten a lot smarter over the years but there seem to be some simple things it still can’t do. One of those is apparently the ability to turn off your phone using just your voice, which does sound (no pun intended) redundant considering there is a power button. It turns out that Google Assistant might gain exactly that feature in Android 12 and precisely because it will be able to commandeer that power button for its self.

Among the many smart assistants available on phones, Google Assistant probably has the most number of activation methods, especially on Pixel phones. There is, of course, the voice command way, presuming it’s always alert for the wake phrase. There are also dedicated buttons as well as squeezes on some phones with that hardware feature. You can also swipe up from the screen’s corners for those using Android’s full-screen gesture navigation.

In Android 12, it’s getting yet another activation method, one that requires long pressing the power button. That, however, is also the action that normally pops up the power menu to bring up shut down, restart, and some smart home controls as of Android 11. It was noted by some Android 12 Beta uses that there is no option to power off the phone should you choose to assign the action to Google Assistant.

9to5Google’s sleuthing revealed that Android 12 will instead offer two new ways to power off the phone. One is to press the volume up and power buttons together at the same time while. The more interesting method is telling Google Assistant to power off the phone, which you can invoke by long-pressing the power button.

The report notes that the function still isn’t activated even if they were able to make the information page come up, so they weren’t able to test whether it will power off your phone directly or bring up the old power menu first. It might not even happen at all, considering Google’s habits, but, hopefully it will come up with a way for users to conveniently turn off their phones when Google Assistant has taken over the power button.

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Google Assistant can now sing you a weird song about vaccines

If you’re a Google Assistant user in the United States, you can now have the voice assistant sing you a somewhat cheesy, cringy jingle about the COVID-19 vaccine. The tune is available with the request for a song about vaccines and it is, mercifully, quite short in nature, meaning your friends won’t be able to use it to drive you too crazy.

If you own a Google smart speaker, you’ve probably talked with it enough to learn that it packs a bunch of jingles, riddles, sound effects, and other fun things. The vaccine song is now included among them as first spied by Android Police, and, well, it’s hard to imagine anyone would play it just for the fun of it.

“Let’s celebrate that we have the vaccine, to help us bring a change to this old routine,” the song starts off. The tempo is upbeat, the lyrics are catchy enough, but it’s hard to get past the cringe factor. The song hits a few key points, though, such as vaccines being safe and the important role they play in moving past the pandemic.

“Scientists worked night and day, in record time they found a way,” the song continues, an emoji punctuating the end of each stanza. “Like superheroes in masks and gloves, helping us get back to what we love.”

Regardless of the cringe induced by the song, it was no doubt made with good intentions to help get people feeling a bit better about the pandemic and the situation in which many still find themselves. Meanwhile, Google has added some other Assistant features, including one for mother’s day tomorrow. Ask the AI to set a timer on mother’s day and Google teases that you’ll get some sort of a surprise in return.

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The Google Assistant is adding new ways to corral your family

Google is adding new Assistant features and tweaking some existing ones to make them more user-friendly, including expanding its Broadcast system. The new Family Broadcast takes the existing functionality – where you can pipe your voice through multiple Google smart speakers and smart displays in the house, useful for announcing meals are ready or reminding people it’s time to leave – and enhances it for smartphones and replies.

So, you can now create a Google Family Group, consisting not only of smart displays like the Nest Hub and speakers like the Nest Audio, but also iPhone and Android smartphones. Saying “Hey Google, tell my family, it’s time for us to hit the road” will broadcast your message across all of those devices in one fell swoop.

Those who hear the broadcast, meanwhile, will be able to respond by voice too. You’ll be able to say “Hey Google, reply ‘I’ll need a little extra time to catch the cat,’” for example, or tap the reply button to bypass the Assistant wake-word.

Meanwhile, Family Bell reminders are also getting a new convenience feature. Added to the Assistant’s array of talents in November last year, Family Bell is basically a group alarm for reminders. Google pitches it as useful for notifying everyone when it’s time for home-schooling to start, or for group chores.

Soon, though, you’ll be able to say “stop” to end the Family Bell alert by voice. It’s a shortcut that the Assistant already works with for individual alarms and timers, that’s being extended to Family Bell in English to begin with. Google will also add the ability to have Family Bells sound across multiple home devices simultaneously, not just one.

For other languages, Family Bell will be extended to support French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Hindi, and Korean. That’s arriving in the coming weeks, Google says.

The updates come on the heels of new, behind-the-scenes changes Google has been making to its core Assistant technology. There are new pronunciation options, which allow users to correct names that the AI gets wrong, for example, along with better contextual understanding which the company says should improve how the Assistant handles things like timers and conversational queries that include multiple questions and responses.

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Google Assistant shortcut test removes hotword for certain tasks

Saying ‘Hey Google’ for every small thing can get annoying, but the hotword serves an important purpose: it lets the voice assistant know when you’re addressing it. For this reason, completely eliminating the hotword isn’t practical, but shortcuts may prove useful in certain limited cases. That’s the idea behind a feature in testing codenamed ‘Guacamole,’ but it’s still in testing.

According to 9to5Google, the Guacamole feature made its appearance in Google app version 12.8 last month, but it’s not something the average user can access at this time. It seems the feature is not included in the Android 12 Developer Preview, but it was recently noted that a setting page for the shortcut has appeared in the app.

The menu page has a brief explanation for the feature, which is listed in the app under the Guacamole name: “Skip saying ‘Hey Google’ for help with quick tasks.’” Users who toggle on the feature could, once it’s available (assuming it ever becomes a regular feature) use the shortcut to avoid saying the hotword for specific tasks.

The report claims these tasks will include things like answering calls, snoozing alarms, and turning off timers. There’s an obvious reason for the shortcuts in these instances — when an alarm is actively blaring, for example, it would make sense for Google Assistant to perceive the word ‘Stop’ as an order to turn it off even if the user doesn’t say ‘Hey Google’ first. The same goes for saying ‘Answer’ when you’re actively getting a call.

It wouldn’t be surprising for Google to introduce this feature; the Nest Hub already supports stopping alarms sans the hotword, for example. It’s unclear when the feature will roll out for everyone — it’s limited to internal testing at this time — and what it will be called when it goes live in the app.

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Google Assistant can now help find your phone and order your takeout

Google is adding four new Assistant features, aiming to streamline how its AI interacts with the smart home, helps with takeout orders, and even helps hunt down a lost device. A new “Hey Google, find my phone” feature works with all Nest smart speakers and smart displays – including the most recent Nest Hub 2nd Generation – to track iPhones and Android devices.

After giving the command, you should hear the phone make a custom ringing sound. That’s even if you’ve got silent or Do Not Disturb mode enabled on the device, Google says. If you’re an Android user you’ll be able to get the location system straight away, while iOS users will need to allow notifications and critical alerts from the Google Home app.

It’s not the only new feature in that app, either: Google has rolled out its sunrise/sunset smart home Routines globally now. They’re based on location, so that the Routine runs according to the actual time that the sun rises or sets in that particular place, rather than being pinned to a fixed time. You can also add an offset in either direction, such as having the Routine start only 30 minutes after the sun sets.

For example, you could set up a new Routine to automatically close your motorized shades and turn on your Hue lights when it’s sunset. Or, at sunrise, you could automatically have the garden security lights switched off. There’s the option for multiple actions triggered with each Routine, and you can set which days of the week it repeats and whether you get a notification that the Routine ran on your phone.

Routines is one of those Google Home abilities that is surprisingly powerful, so it should perhaps come as no surprise in turn that figuring out just what can be done with the system might be overwhelming to new users. Google is adding a Ready-Made Routines page now in the Google Home app, with suggestions for popular actions. It’s also supporting adding Android home screen shortcuts for specific Routines that aren’t triggered automatically.

Finally, there’s more integration between Google Maps, Google Search, the Assistant, and Duplex. Google’s use of the Assistant to make calls to businesses and set up appointments and more has been broadening over the past year or so – we’re also expecting to hear more about the technology at Google I/O 2021 in a few months time – and now Duplex on the web is being combined with “Order” buttons for restaurant listings in Search and Maps business profiles.

On an Android device, you’ll be able to search for a restaurant, choose “Order Online” and then select what you want to eat; clicking “Check Out” will automatically fill in the necessary details, tap Google Pay for payment information, and finalize the order. Initially, Google says, it’ll be partnering with select restaurant chains for that, but to expect more partners across the US to be added later in the year.

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Google Assistant Memory could be its most exciting upgrade yet

Some productivity gurus emphasize that the brain is for thinking, not for holding “stuff”. While some scientists will definitely contest that claim, it’s hard to argue that the average human does find it hard to juggle many thoughts and ideas in their head all at once. That’s what notebooks, both paper and digital, have been used for centuries and Google is apparently looking into turning its AI-powered Assistant to become the Memory for your digital brain.

Google Assistant may have started out almost like a glorified voice-controlled Google Search but it has been envisioned to be, well, your digital assistant. Just like human assistants, it is meant to take care of menial stuff, like keeping tabs on your todos, filing tickets and receipts, and reminding you of important dates. Google Assistant already does that and soon it will also keep your spur-of-the-moment ideas and references.

9to5Google’s APK teardown of the Google app revealed what is being called Assistant’s “Memory” feature. In a nutshell, this would allow users to dump almost anything they encounter both in the real world and on the Internet. That includes photos of objects, notes, and places as well as screenshots, links, and more. Even Google Assistant’s current Reminders will soon be located in this Memory.

Storing things in Assistant’s Memory is a simple act of a voice command or a home screen shortcut. Retrieving them is just as easy, with a feed-like tab in the app, showing the memories in reverse chronological order of cards with Today’s latest on top. The app will also offer shortcuts to certain categories like Important, Read Later, etc.

At the moment, Google Assistant Memory is being tested internally. As great as it sounds, there’s also a chance it never leaves Google’s doors in the end. That would be a shame, though, as this could be one of the most important features that the Assistant is getting in terms of actually helping put order in our chaotic modern lives.

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