Is Google Developing a Siri Killer?

Right now it's just a rumor, but according to some reports, Google is developing a voice recognition assistant for Android, code named "Majel."

The news comes from the Web site AndroidandMe.com, which said that Majel, named for Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the wife of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry who also played Nurse Chappell in the original series and was the voice of the ships' computers in subsequent series, is the next step in furthering Google's Voice Actions.

"Majel is an evolution of Google's Voice Actions that is currently available on most Android phones, with the addition of natural language processing," the blog said. "Where Voice Actions required you to issue specific commands like send text to, or navigate to, Majel will allow you to perform actions in your natural language similar to how Siri functions."

Google's Voice Actions can be found on Android phones and allows users to speak Web searches, compose email, control music, and other features. Google also has its Voice Input and Voice Search products, and last year launched a feature that lets users automatically transcribe speech to produce captions on YouTube videos. There's also Google Translate which speaks translated text in multiple languages, enabling drivers to listen to navigation instructions.

The Web site points out that Majel might also incorporate technology of Google's acquisition earlier this month of Phonetic Arts, a speech synthesis company based in Cambridge, England. The company develops technology that generates natural computer speech from small samples of recorded voice.

As AndroidandMe.com pointed out, Google hinted at Majel in an interview with Slashgear.com in October.

"I think Siri is great. I think it's really hard in the long run to follow strategy of making kind of an artificial personality," said Matias Duarte, director of Android OS user experience at Google. "You know, it can be really funny at first, but that uncanny value of just having a personality that you start to interact with as you would a person, with all the contextual ambiguity you would with a real person that's a really challenging approach, and they're going for it, that's great.

"Our approach is different. The metaphor I like to take is 'If it's Star Wars, you have these robot personalities like C-3PO who runs around and he tries to do stuff for you, messes up, and makes jokes, he's kind of a comic relief guy. Our approach is more like Star Trek, right, Starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It's not that there's a personality, it doesn't have a name, it's just Computer. And you can talk to it and you can touch it, you can interact with it at the same time as you talk with it. It's just another way to interface with the computer," said Durarte.

Google has not responded to calls for comment.

SpeechTek Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues