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Google Home can now tell who's talking

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/21/2017 Edward C. Baig

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Among the first things you might ask the cloud-based voice activated Google Assistant inside Google Home is to “tell me about my day.” Google Assistant will then rattle off the local weather, upcoming appointments, and connect you to preferred news sources.

Until now, though, the standalone artificial intelligence-infused $129 speaker--Google’s rival to Amazon’s popular Alexa voice-based Echo speaker--couldn’t distinguish your voice from that of a spouse, partner or roommate.

Heck, they want to hear about their day too.

On Wednesday, Google began rolling out a feature to remedy the situation in households with a shared Google Home unit: the ability for up to six people to connect their account to that unit and, following a brief training period, have the speaker recognize each person’s voice independently. Google Home can then deliver their commute times, calendars, playlists, and so on--not yours.

It’s a welcome feature that addresses a potential nuisance--and is a stunt Alexa can’t yet pull off on Echo devices, though I'm sure Amazon is at work trying.

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You’ll need the latest Google Home app to get started. Then, look for a card that says “multi-user is available” and if you can’t find it, click the icon in the upper right to locate your connected devices, and make sure to link your account.

Google asks you to train your voice by saying the phrases, “Ok Google” and “Hey Google” twice each.  The way Google explains it, the phrases are analyzed by a neural network which can detect certain characteristics of each voice. From then on, any time you say "Ok Google" or "Hey Google" to your Google Home, the neural network will compare the sound of your voice to its previous analysis to determine if it is you speaking or not, a comparison Google claims takes place in a matter of milliseconds.

Google shows off how it works in this promotional Google Home video.

A few things to keep in mind: If you have more than one Google Home in your house, you’ll have to set up each one independently even if you share the same network; voice training is local to the device.  The feature doesn’t work on smartphones that incorporate the Google Assistant either, though phones of course are more personal anyway.

Google also adds that the feature is not available for kids under 13.

The feature rollout comes to the U.S. first and will expand to the U.K. in coming months, Google says.

I’m eager to test it out with family members in my house, and will update this post if I encounter any snags or surprises.

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