New Google Nest Hub experiment nixes the “Hey Google” voice hotword

Here’s an interesting experiment Google is kicking around on its smart displays: voice-command input without a hotword. A video detailing the feature is up on YouTube from Jan Boromeusz, a Nest Home hacker who has a proven track record of scoring early smart display features before they get announced.

Boromeusz’s Nest Hub Max is somehow in “Dogfood” mode, which means it receives early, non-public builds of the smart display software meant only for internal use at Google. A special menu called “Dogfood features” lists a “Blue Steel” feature that will let the device respond to commands without having to say the “Hey Google” hotword first—you just say a command and it will respond. Boromeusz says the device will listen for commands after “detecting presence,” so if someone is in front of the display, it will just start answering questions.

Today Google’s voice command hardware listens all the time, but only for the “Hey Google” hotword. Once that’s detected, it will start processing additional commands. The more modern implementations also use the hotword as the cutoff point for connecting to the Internet—”Hey Google” detection is processed locally, and anything after that will get uploaded, processed, and stored on Google’s servers. The hotword also acts as a form of consent, not just by having the following words uploaded to the Internet, but also because letting the device listen all the time and respond to every possible thing that could be interpreted as a command would be annoying.

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