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Google tackles a major flaw with home assistants

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is teaching its Google Home voice-activated speaker some new tricks. The tech giant announced today that it’s addressing one of the major flaws with assistants like Home and Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa-powered Echo by adding multi-user support.

Currently, Google Home and the Echo can’t distinguish between individual voices. In other words, they can’t tell if I’m giving it a command or you’re giving it a command. That can be a problem if you have a houseguest who decides it would be funny to order 24 pairs of underwear on your Home.

By adding multi-user support, Home, which is powered by Google Assistant, can recognize up to six different users’ voices and provide them with information that’s specific to them.

Google Home is adding multi-user voice recognition capabilities.

For example, if you ask Google Home what your schedule looks like, it will recognize your voice and tell you what you’ve got lined up for the day. If your husband or wife asks the same question, Home will tell them their unique schedule.

The technology works by using Google’s neural networks to analyze your voice. When you set up an account, Home will ask you to repeat the launch phrases “Okay, Google” and “Hey, Google” two times each.

Google’s networks will then analyze your voice to determine its specific characteristics and save them for your account. The next time you use those launch phrases, Home will compare what it hears with your saved voice profile and recognize who is speaking to it.

Google says Home will be able to answer personal questions for topics like your schedule, shopping lists, news and podcasts, photos, information about your commute, your calendar and Uber account.

Amazon at work

Google’s multi-user announcement follows a February report by Time indicating that Amazon is working on similar technology for its Alexa voice assistant.

Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo still doesn’t have multi-user voice support.

Amazon, however, declined to comment on the matter at the time of the report, and hasn’t mentioned the technology since.

It’s worth noting, though, that Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo is still outselling Google’s Home by a wide margin. What’s more, Alexa can perform more tasks than Google’s offering, so it’s not as if Alexa or the Echo are being usurped as the voice assistant of choice for your home.

Still, if Amazon is going to hold onto its crown, it needs to counter Google’s newest offering and fast.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.