At CES 2020, Google’s goal is to make “Assistant the most helpful digital assistant throughout your day.” On your phone, this involves a preview of an upcoming “read it” command that features natural text-to-speech.

Since 2018, Google Go — a Search app for RAM-constrained devices in developing nations — has featured a TTS functionality that allows you to listen to webpages. The company is now bringing a more advanced iteration that allows for “natural reading of long-form content” to Assistant.

Unlike traditional screen readers, this experience is built on new voice datasets to create more expressive and more natural sounding voices, so it’s easier to listen for a longer period of time.

Today, screen readers are often found in Pocket and other read-it-later services that first require you to save a page and then download a text-only version. One integrated with Assistant and your phone is instantaneous, while benefiting from Google’s language understanding and speech advancements.

You’ll be able to say “Hey Google, read it,” or “Hey Google, read this page,” to initiate on Android. This opens a new Assistant read-it UI with article shown above and controls docked at the bottom for play/pause, 10-second rewind, and 30-second skip. There is a scrubbable timeline with length estimate and ability to speed up or slow down playback, as well as a standard media playback notification for quick control.

The source page can be translated into 42 languages with TTS leveraging neural networks. In creating voices suited for long-form, Google is looking at prosody — stress, intonation, and rhythm.

Possible use cases include reading long news articles, blogs, or short stories on the web, while Google is working on auto scroll and text highlighting capabilities to “help users read the text as it is being read aloud.” That follow-along can be particularly helpful for people learning a new language.

This has the potential of providing a podcast-equivalent of all long-form pieces, and useful when hands-free or exercising. Google Assistant’s read it command is coming later this year for Android 5.0 and above.

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Abner Li

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