Google Call Screening: A personal robot that talks to, hangs up on spam calls

As expected, Google’s Tuesday hardware announcement event came with a few announcements of software- and AI-driven features and products. One of those, like last year’s Duplex, sees Google handling phone calls on your behalf. This time, instead of targeting businesses and restaurants, Google is aiming its robots’ lasers at robocalls and phone spam.

Google Call Screening, which will debut on the new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones in the US, has been announced as an “on-device” feature (as opposed to something driven by Duplex) that phone users can turn on when a phone call arrives from an unrecognized number. This will pick up the call and have a Google Assistant voice speak a prompt:

“Hi, the person you’re calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name, and why you are calling.”

Whatever the caller says in response will appear as a voice-to-text translation on the phone screen. At that point, Pixel phone users can elect to pick up the call, offer a robo-spoken response like “who is this?” or “I’ll call you back,” or mark the caller’s number as spam. In the demo’s case, the caller describes a contest for an “all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii.” The demo didn’t appear to offer any context-sensitive responses to the spam in question.

Google’s demo also didn’t include any out-loud sample of how calls between your phone’s Google Assistant voice and a robo-caller’s automated voice might sound. For now, the service doesn’t appear to offer the option to listen to the robot-on-robot action in question—in case, for example, you wanted to turn on a muted speakerphone while Google Call Screening did its thing. (We may want to hear the “conversation” in question, just to make sure Google’s promise of giving users a copy doesn’t quite turn out and that this isn’t a ploy to have spam-bots and Goog-bots join forces in a robo-revolution behind our backs.)

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