Google is getting pretty heavily into voice-driven AI with its Pixel phones. It first announced Google Duplex – a controversial feature which allows the phone to automatically make calls for things like restaurant bookings. But it also launched a new call-screening feature.

Originally exclusive to the Pixel 3 in October, it was last month extended to the Pixel 2/XL, and it got a very welcome upgrade just a few days ago.

Here’s how call-screening works …

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When you receive an incoming call, you get the usual green accept and red reject buttons. But you also get a ‘Screen call’ button.

Tap this, and the caller will be told that you are using a call-screening service, and asked to say their name and the reason for the call. Google then transcribes their reply in real time – exactly as if they were dictating a message to Siri – and you see the text on your screen. It shows you both what the AI is saying to the caller, and what the caller is saying to the AI.

You then get on-screen buttons offering a number of options for handling the call. You can:

  • Answer it (effectively, your AI assistant transfers the call to you)
  • End it
  • Ask the caller to identify themselves
  • Ask them to tell you more
  • Tell them you’ll call them back
  • Report the call as spam

If, for example, you ask them to tell you more, the AI does that for you and then transcribes their response.

Here’s an animation of the call-screening feature in action:

Pixel call-screening

If you don’t have time to monitor it in real-time, you can just leave the AI to get on with it and read the call transcript later to decide whether or not to call them back. It’s like a more sophisticated version of visual voicemail.

To me, this is a really smart use of technology. Phone calls are the most annoying form of spam because they take the most time to deal with, so any tech which makes these less hassle is welcome. And, over time, telemarketers are going to experience more and more automated call rejections, and the effectiveness of the sales method will decline, effectively discouraging the use of the method altogether.

Apple already has all the necessary tech for this type of call-screening. Siri is capable of both speaking to callers and performing real-time speech-to-text transcription – the only new thing Apple would need to add is the interception of the call.

What’s your view? Is Siri-powered call-screening a feature you’d like to see offered on the iPhone? Please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.


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