Google Disables Malfunctioning Home Mini Feature That Could Cause Non-Stop Recording

Google recently disabled a feature included in its upcoming Google Home Mini smart speaker after a reviewer found that it was causing the device to record conversations and sounds even when no "OK Google" prompt word was spoken.

As detailed by Android Police's Artem Russakovskii, who received a Google Home Mini test unit last week, the device was malfunctioning due to an issue with the built-in touch panel designed to let Google Assistant be activated with a press instead of a voice command.

The Google Home Mini's touch mechanism was registering phantom touch events, causing it to continually record audio, which is not supposed to happen. Russakovskii discovered the problem after finding thousands of recordings in the Assistant section his My Activity portal on the web, where Assistant queries are stored.


Google was alerted to the issue and collected his unit for testing, which led to the discovery of the faulty touch mechanism. The problem as described by Google:
We have learned of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Minis that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly. We are rolling out a software update today that should address the issue.
To fix the malfunctioning touch panel, Google released a firmware update for all Google Home Mini devices disabling the feature allowing Google Assistant to be activated with a long press. Google told Russakovskii a longer-term fix is in the works, but in the meantime, the press to activate feature will not be available when the Google Home Mini launches.
In response, the updated software disables the long press to activate the Google Assistant feature. Once the Google Home Mini devices receive the updated software, all long press events (real or phantom) will be ignored and Google Assistant will not be invoked accidentally.

The company also let me know that they're in the process of building a long-term fix, whatever it may be. It's too early to say if they're going to be able to deal with "phantom" touch events entirely in software or a recall for affected units will be in order.
When the issue was discovered, Google took it seriously and collected the faulty review unit within a matter of hours. An engineer worked over the weekend to figure out what was going on and the firmware update to remove the feature was available by Tuesday.

Introduced last week, the Google Home Mini speaker is priced at $49.99 and can be purchased from the Google website. Google Home Mini units are expected to begin shipping out to customers on October 18.


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Upcoming ‘Google Home Mini’ Smart Speaker Details and Images Leaked

We've previously covered rumors that Google has been working on a "mini" version of its $129 Google Home smart speaker, which is expected to be unveiled at the company's Pixel 2 smartphone event scheduled for October 4. But it looks as if details and images of the "Home Mini" have already been leaked, courtesy of DroidLife.

According to the tech site, Google Home Mini is the official name of the new smart speaker, which will cost $49 and come in Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral colors.


The Google Home Mini is said to be able to help users with their schedule, set reminders, catch up on news headlines, and other Home-related inquiries, thanks to integrated Google Assistant.

The pictures show lights on top of each unit, which will likely indicate interaction with Google Assistant. But unlike the original Google Home, the images suggest owners won't be able to change the color of the bases on the Mini versions.

Alongside the new smart speaker, Google is expected to launch a rebranded Chromebook or "Google Pixelbook" at its Pixel 2 smartphone event. DroidLife has also managed to unearth pictures of the new notebook, which will reportedly come in silver, offer stylus support, and have three different storage tiers – 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB, costing $1,199, $1,399, and $1,749, respectively.


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Enhancements Coming to Google Assistant Set to Rival Siri Improvements in iOS 11

In the run-up to the official release of iOS 11 this month, much of Apple's focus has been on touted improvements coming to its built-in virtual assistant, Siri. Apart from becoming more naturally spoken, Siri will allow users to get real-time translation between select languages and is said to boast a greater understanding of the user's needs dependent on circumstance and time of day, with the AI assistant's learning synced across devices.

Apple is hoping these and other improvements will go some way to quashing negative perceptions of Siri, which have led some iOS users to turn to rival assistants for a better experience. One of those rivals is Google Assistant, which as well as powering Google's Pixel smartphones is integrated into Google's iOS Search app. In general tests, Google Assistant consistently beats Siri in areas including language comprehension, responsiveness, and answer accuracy. But like Apple, Google's AI team is not resting on its laurels, and this week at Google Developer Days, the company demoed some of the new features it is working to bring to its flagship assistant in the near future.


Like Siri, one of the major additions coming to Google Assistant is a new translator mode, which once activated by the user with the phrase "OK Google, be my [specify language] translator", repeats everything that is subsequently said in the requested language both vocally and visually. While standard translation as such isn't new to Google Assistant, the new way of interacting with it is designed to be more useful when users are traveling abroad.

Another improvement coming to the virtual AI is better contextual understanding of questions. For example, in the GDD stage demonstration, Google Assistant is first asked to show pictures of Thomas, and the AI returns images of Thomas the Tank Engine. Next, responding to the phrase "Bayern Munich team roster", the Assistant returns details of the German soccer team. Then it is once more asked for "pictures of Thomas", but this time the Assistant pulls up pictures of Bayern soccer player Thomas Müller, putting the results correctly in context to the rolling set of queries.

In a subsequent example, the audience is shown how Google Assistant can help them remember the name of a movie that's on the tip of their tongue. The stage demonstrator asks, "What is the name of the movie where Tom Cruise acts in it and he plays pool and while he plays pool he dances". With little hesitation, The Color of Money appears on the screen and the Assistant relates further details about the film.


In addition to these new features, Google said its virtual assistant can now respond to questions faster and is able to understand a user's voice more accurately in noisy environments. It also claimed that the AI now has deeper integration with Google Search, which should enable it to provide more detailed answers to queries.

It's unclear which of these enhancements will make it over to Google's iOS Search app, or whether the company makes some of the features exclusive to Android. Whatever its plans, the GDD demonstrations show just how much the virtual assistant wars are hotting up. And with Google Assistant now showing up in third-party smart speaker devices, there's every indication that Siri in iOS 11 – and in Apple's upcoming HomePod speaker – will have plenty of competition in the virtual assistant space.

Related Roundup: iOS 11
Tags: Google Assistant, Google Home

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Google I/O 2017: Assistant on iOS, Bluetooth Streaming on Google Home, and Easy Sharing With Photos

Google today kicked off its annual I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California, beginning with a keynote where the company announced Google Assistant for iPhone, new Google Home features including the ability to stream Apple Music via Bluetooth, and new photo sharing features in Google Photos.

Google Assistant on iOS


As it was rumored earlier this week, Google today announced that its AI helper Google Assistant is out now for iOS as its own standalone app [Direct Link]. This way, users will be able to chat with Google and gain access to all of its interactive features without needing a Pixel or Android smartphone.


The company also revealed that Google Assistant will be gaining new chatbot abilities and integration with a new technology called Google Lens, which enhances a smartphone's camera with AI learning. As an example, Google showed a demo where a user took a picture of a business's sign, and gave them reviews, menu items, friend check-ins, and more. Other examples include the camera's ability to identify what a user is looking at, such as the species of a flower, or connecting to a Wi-Fi network by taking a picture of a sticker on a router.
Continue reading Google I/O 2017: Assistant on iOS, Bluetooth Streaming on Google Home, and Easy Sharing With Photos

Google Rumored to Launch Standalone ‘Google Assistant’ App on iOS With Chat and Voice Controls

Google is planning to launch its smart AI helper Google Assistant on iOS sometime "soon" as its own standalone app, according to sources speaking to Android Police. The rumor is swirling ahead of Google's annual I/O Conference, which will run this week from May 17 to May 19 in California.

According to the sources, the specifics of Google's plans for Assistant on iOS remain unclear as of now, but the app is predicted to combine the chatbot-like features of Google Allo with voice controls found on Android smartphones.


More solid details about the Google Assistant iOS app point towards a United States-only launch, and an official announcement coming "in fairly short order."
According to a trusted source, Google plans to announce that the Google Assistant will be launching on iOS soon as a standalone app. The announcement could come as soon as Google's I/O conference this week, but it's unclear exactly what Google's plans are at this time. The app would likely feature a blend of the "chat" style functionality in the Google Allo version of Assistant and the voice-controlled version found on Android, but again, details are scant.

We do know that the Assistant for iOS will only be available in the US at launch, and that Google plans to make the announcement in fairly short order. I/O would be a pretty ideal venue for such a launch, as Assistant's SDK was just made available to developers late last month. Bringing the Assistant to the world's second-largest mobile OS would likely encourage more developers to integrate with the app's functionality.
Microsoft has launched its own smart assistant Cortana on iOS in the past, allowing more users to gain access to the assistant than if it remained exclusive to the company's own devices. If Google Assistant does come to iPhone and iPad, it'll mark a continued expansion of the AI, after Google first launched Assistant on Pixel devices, Google Home, the Google Allo app, and then expanded to Android smartphones.


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Google Home Speaker Criticized For Spreading Fake News

Google's search algorithms came under renewed fire on Sunday after the BBC highlighted examples in which the company's Google Home smart speaker promotes "fake news" and conspiracy theories through its virtual assistant.

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweeted a video yesterday that appears to show the smart device responding to the question "Is Obama planning a coup?" with the reply: "Obama may in fact be planning a Communist coup d'etat at the end of his term in 2016."


In another example, Search Editor Land editor Danny Sullivan asked his Google Home "Are Republicans fascists?", to which it replied: "Yes. Republicans equals Nazis."

As pointed out by Business Insider, the fault lies in Google's Featured Snippets feature, which corrals data from the web to provide the user with a supposedly definitive answer to a query typed into the Google search bar.

A version of the feature powers Google Assistant, the company's voice-activated virtual assistant, which is built into the Google Home smart speaker and some smartphones. The algorithms Google uses to verify online sources of information appear to be at fault, but the issue is arguably worse on smart devices because the answers they provide are plucked from the web without context, so users often remain unaware of their source.
A Google spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement that "Featured Snippets in Search provide an automatic and algorithmic match to a given search query, and the content comes from third-party sites. Unfortunately, there are instances when we feature a site with inappropriate or misleading content. When we are alerted to a Featured Snippet that violates our policies, we work quickly to remove them, which we have done in this instance. We apologise for any offense this may have caused."
Google has come in for criticism before for its predictive search results, but the problem of "fake news" in particular was identified during last year's U.S. Presidential election, and led companies like Facebook to make statements about the action they have taken to bring the quality of articles to users' attention.

Apple is also said to be working on ways to ensure its content delivery services can identify and prevent conspiracy theories being peddled as legitimate news, according to Apple's senior vice president of software and services, Eddy Cue. "We're trying to do some things in Apple News, we're learning from that and we need to share that together as an industry and improve it," he said last month.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has called fake news "one of today's chief problems" and that "we have to give the consumer tools" to deal with the challenge.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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MWC 2017: Google Assistant Expands Beyond Pixel to New Android Smartphones

Google today announced that its AI helper, Google Assistant, will begin rolling out to users with smartphones running Android 7.0 Nougat and Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Previously, the company's AI assistant was exclusive to the Pixel smartphone, Google Home, the Google Allo app, and Android Wear devices.

Google Assistant will first arrive to English users in the United States this week, followed soon after with an English debut in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Support for German speakers will be coming soon, and Google said that it will "continue to add more languages over the coming year." Users with eligible Nougat and Marshmallow devices will automatically gain Google Assistant through Google Play Services.

Whether you need to know how to say “nice to meet you” in Korean or just a simple reminder to do laundry when you get home, your Assistant can help. With the Google Assistant on Android phones, you have your own personal, helpful Google right in your pocket.
A few new smartphones will be incorporating Google Assistant from the get-go as well, like the LG G6 and some other "newly announced partner devices." Sony, Huawei, Samsung, and HTC are all listed as companies with Android smartphones that will support Google Assistant.

With the expansion of Google Assistant to more smartphone lines, as well as a future launch on TVs and in cars, Google is continuing to bolster the Assistant's competition against Apple and Siri. Many smartphone vendors are reported to be doubling down on artificial intelligence features for smartphones debuting in 2017 and beyond, including Apple with the "iPhone 8" and an update to Siri that is said to bring more "enhanced" capabilities to the personal assistant.

In its announcement post, Google said that its ultimate goal "is to make the Assistant available anywhere you need it." Google's hope for an AI future was highlighted at a media event in October where it unveiled Google Home, the Pixel smartphone, and more, while connecting everything to its artificial intelligence initiatives.

Previous Coverage: Siri and Pixel's Google Assistant Compete Side-by-Side in New Video


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