Google Assistant gets a game-changing, face-scanning update

A stylized Google Nest device with phrases against a green background
(Image credit: Google)

Google is introducing new features to its Google Voice Assistant, including Look and Talk, more natural conversations, and more.

The first major feature, Look and Talk, removes the need to use the "Hey Google" just by looking at a Nest Hub Max to unlock it, and then ask the relevant question. You'll need to opt-in and have both Face Match and Voice Match activated so that the device can recognize you.

Fortunately, with the ongoing rollout of Real Tone, your device will more easily recognize you, Google says. "We’ve tested and refined Look and Talk to work across a range of skin tones so it works well for people with diverse backgrounds," the company said in a blog post today. "We’ll continue to drive this work forward using the Monk Skin Tone Scale, released today."

Better still, all of the video for this feature is processed on-device, so nothing gets uploaded to the cloud, making interactions more secure.

Next, Google Assistant will understand much more natural conversations, like the ums, uhs, and likes we use in natural conversation, and even monitor the context of the request to better prompt you in case you can't remember the right word to use.

Google is also expanding Quick Phrases to the Nest Hub Max, which lets you skip the "Hey Google" part for many common interactions. "So as soon as you walk through the door, you can just say 'Turn on the hallway lights' or 'Set a timer for 10 minutes,' Google writes. "Quick phrases are also designed with privacy in mind. If you opt in, you decide which phrases to enable, and they’ll work when Voice Match recognizes it’s you.

Analysis: Better privacy and inclusivity is a step in the right direction

It's no secret that Google has come under a lot of criticism recently for privacy concerns and its facial recognition technology, particularly how its algorithms handle darker skin tones and other issues around inclusiveness.

While we'd like to see Google go further and talk more about how its accounting for bias in its algorithms, this is a good first step in the right direction. It remains to be seen how much further Google takes these initiatives, but we have more confidence in its inclusive practices than its privacy ones.

Our data is Google's buisiness – literally. While some of the efforts showcased at Google IO talk about removing identifying information from the data it collects, knowing how we all behave online is how it is able to sell itself to its customers which are businesses large and small, not you and me. If Google is ever able to come up with a way to provide all of those services in a way that protects user privacy, we'd welcome it whole-heartedly. Until then, however, keep minding those cookies and keep location services off by default.

John Loeffler
Components Editor

John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.

You can find him online on Threads @johnloeffler.

Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 (just like everyone else).