Google’s Insane ‘Call Screen’ Feature Uses AI to Handle Spam for You

Google Call Screening Android Credit: YouTube / Tim Schofield
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Robocalls are a pesky occurrence that most people have experienced by now, especially as scammers have grown bolder and more persistent. There are few things more annoying than being awoken at 3am by a spam caller that just won’t quit. By next year, nearly half of all cell phone calls in the US will be scams, the Washington Post reports, underscoring the scale and seriousness of the problem.

Which explains why the latest Android feature was a big hit at Google’s hardware event on Tuesday. Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones will come with a Call Screen feature where Google Assistant talks to and hangs up on spam callers for you.

When you receive a call, you can tap a button that says “screen call” to have Google Assistant act as your personal secretary. It will proceed to answer the call for you and ask callers for their name and business as follows:

“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’re calling.”

Meanwhile, you will get a real-time transcript of the conversation on your phone’s screen. You will have a variety of options to either continue or end the conversation including: “Who is this?,” “I’ll call you back,” “Tell me more,” “I can’t understand,” and “Is it urgent?”

If a scammer is calling to tell you that you have won a million dollars, or, that you owe a million dollars to the IRS, you can have Google Assistant report it as spam and respond: “Please remove the number from your contact list. Thanks and goodbye.” (Skip to 8:34 to see it in action.)

This highly useful and advanced feature is unique to Google’s Android ecosystem. It leverages Google’s Duplex software, which gives its AI voice a naturalistic quality (complete with “uhms” and other human characteristic) that has duped call center workers in the past. Per company policy, Google Assistant will always identify itself to callers, according to Wired.

Both Google and Apple phones allow call screening apps that automatically block robocalls. Google’s Pixel phones already come with robocall screening built-in, whereas Apple users must turn to third-party apps. However, needless to say, Call Screening goes above and beyond the mere blocking of calls, making such apps look dated by comparison.

The innovation has spurred industry watchers to wonder aloud if Apple will come up with a similar feature, putting pressure on the iPhone maker to step up and roll out bigger improvements to Siri in coming iOS updates.

While Apple already introduced an AI-centered iPhone earlier this year, many of the new Siri features require users to go in and manually set up the workflows. Google’s Call Screening, by comparison, does much of the heavy lifting in a seamless and self-explanatory manner. It’s a fine example of the kinds of services consumers can now expect their AI-powered phones to provide.

Currently, Call Screen is limited to Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones, but we can expect wider availability in the Android ecosystem in the coming months and years.

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