Photograph by Ian Waldie — Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Hilary Brueck
March 31, 2016

Ask a smartphone voice assistant to answer a question or give directions and there’s little question you’re talking to a robot.

But Google’s latest version of Google Now sounds more like a person and less like a machine.

Google’s revamped chat bot won’t fool anyone just yet. But the new version accommodates more nuances of human intonation and speech patterns. It’s not just learning how to speak more naturally and add in subtle vocal changes, it’s also becoming a better listener—responding to longer, and more specific questions without too much pause.

Google’s voice assistant isn’t the only bot getting chattier. As Google tries to perfect the art of seamless conversation, just about every other big tech company is racing to make their own chat robot a little more helpful and a little less impersonal.

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This week Microsoft announced it’s bringing the Cortana voice assistant into Skype. The new feature is only in preview mode now, but eventually, it will anticipate Skypers’ needs—suggesting hotel bookings for upcoming trips, ordering food deliveries, and managing appointments.

Amazon is preparing its Echo assistant for a road trip—the technology will appear in some Ford Escape models this year, where it will help drivers remotely control the thermostats and lights in their homes from their Internet-connected car dashboard. Apple, meanwhile, is trying to bolster Siri’s image by upping its sports trivia game and enlisting Cookie Monster as an unofficial spokesman for the technology.

Google Now tops Siri and Cortana in Questionable Showdown:

It’s all part of the race to build a new kind of voice assistant, one that won’t respond poorly in a crisis or misinterpret commands (like some Echo systems recently did when they started obeying commands from voices on the radio).

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