Google is rolling out a big update to the Search app, adding the ability to use the “OK, Google” hotword from anywhere in the phone’s interface. According to a company executive, one more feature coming soon to Google Now is simultaneous support for multiple languages.
Talking to CNET, Tamar Yehoshua, VP of Google’s Search team, said Now will soon be able to understand up to seven languages and switch between them as needed, without the user’s input. Users will first need to select the secondary languages from the settings, but after that, switching between languages will happen seamlessly.
Currently, you can only interact with Google Now in one language at a time, so talking in French to a phone set to English will result in an error message or gibberish, at best.
The feature doesn’t seem to be present on the devices we tested, even if we had the latest version of the Search app installed. It appears that Google is enabling this feature (as well as the system wide hotword support) on a per-user basis.
Support for the new feature should roll out to all users in the following days.
Google’s engineers also touched on some of the difficult problems they have to solve in order to make voice interaction “just work”. One big problem is making voice recognition software capable of understanding accents and unusual speech patterns, such as kids’ speech. Google Now is 0ne or two years away from beginning to understand the speech of small children, but it may take more time to perfect the voice recognition to human-like levels
“It’s going to be five years, maybe less, before my computer can recognize child speech as well as I can,” Google engineer Johann Schalkwyk said.
Other problems that Google is working to solve are how to recognize voice commands in noisy environments and from a distance of more than just a few feet.