The internet has brought a wealth of information to the fingertips of many. Research that would have required hours in a library 20 years ago can now be done in 20 minutes. All you have to do is search and read some websites. But what if that’s not enough convenience for you? Google may have the solution. A new feature for the “Google Go” browser will allow users to listen to the text from their favorite website, in up to 28 languages, even on slow connections.
Google Go was launched last year as a lightweight version of the browser, which makes it a powerful tool for consumers in locations with limited internet infrastructure. Google Go is only a 5 MB download and it’s optimized to save up to 40% of data when loading pages. In just its first year, it has been downloaded millions of times. The international team of Google developers behind Google Go are introducing the new AI reader feature.
“Today, we’re launching a new feature which will let everyone using Google Go’s browser listen to webpages out loud,” explained Google in a blog post on August 28th. “Powered by natural language processing and speech synthesis AI, this technology can read aloud billions of webpages in 28 languages smoothly, and in a natural sounding voice, even on 2G connections. It also uses minimal cellular data. This technology relies on AI to determine which parts of a page to read, and which to leave out, so you only listen to what is important.”
Text-to-speech technology isn’t new, but it has always been hard to perfect the technology for general consumer use. Websites often have a lot of text that isn’t meant to be read (e.g. menus or alt-text for images). So creating an AI system that can sort through a page and only read the important elements is impressive. Especially since it can be done with something as slow as a 2G connection.
One of the persistent issues with text-to-speech programs through the ages is providing a natural sounding voice. Technology has come a long way from the computerized voices of the 80s, but even now, a virtual reader doesn’t have the inflection and tone of person who understands what they are reading. It will be interesting to see how well Google Go’s new feature will handle these issues and how well it will be handled in 28 different languages.
Though the feature is launching with Google Go (which is predominately used overseas), Google hopes to bring the AI reader to other Google products in the future. This means that website owners in America should be thinking about how things sound when read aloud while creating content for a site.
One way to make sure content sounds right when read aloud is to double-check the most important content on a site for spelling and grammar accuracy. Issues such as correct comma usage and homonyms are more important when an AI reader will decide how to read a sentence based on the way it’s written.
For example, though they contain the same words in the same order, these two sentences mean different things:
She said I should go to bed.
She said, “I should go to bed.”
Accurate grammar and spelling are always important when creating content, but when visitors are listening to your site being read aloud, every mistake will become more obvious, or worse, change the meaning of a sentence.
Another concern for website owners will be to ensure that their content works, even when people are only listening to the written text. This means website owners can’t rely on the text in the images to tell important information, since that won’t be read to listener.
Having an AI reader for websites can be beneficial for consumers, and may help websites reach new audiences. However, these changes will require some adjustments from website owners. While the adjustments won’t be major, as good writing has always been suggested, an AI reader will make accuracy and well-written copy more important.