Kurt Verlin
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Toyota’s Next-Gen Voice Assistant Won’t Require the Internet

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Toyota Voice Assistant example on high-res display
Photo: Toyota

Toyota has announced that in partnership with Google Cloud, it will bring the tech company’s newest AI-based speech services to its latest multimedia system, which can already be found on 2023 models like the Toyota Corolla and Lexus RX.

Currently, Toyota’s multimedia systems already use Google Cloud’s speech-to-text capabilities to recognize your voice inputs for the Toyota Voice Assistant. But because AI-based speech recognition and synthesis is traditionally very hardware intensive, it has virtually always made more sense to offload the necessary computations to the cloud.

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This is why most voice assistants, including Siri or Alexa, have historically had either limited or nonexistent offline functionality, even if you attempt to use the assistants to do something that seemingly shouldn’t require the internet.

Now, Google Cloud’s new “Speech On-Device” technology is able to embed fully featured speech models locally on even small devices, without major computing requirements, thus eliminating the limitation of relying on the cloud.

“By working closely with Toyota to understand its in-vehicle device requirements and capabilities, we were able to provide server-like quality while using only a small fraction of the processing power to ensure the best possible experience for drivers,” said Umesh Vemuri, vice president at Google Cloud.

You can expect this technology to crop up in areas other than the next-gen Toyota Voice Assistant. Toyota says the new product makes it possible to “bring high-quality speech services to disconnected environments” such as televisions and kiosks, not just cars.

It’s amusing to see an advancement in technology that, for once, doesn’t involve transplanting functionalities to the cloud, but rather takes them away from it. It’s quite possible that in the future, even the tiniest device will be capable of such computational feats that relying on distant servers will be totally unnecessary.

Perhaps every device will also have so much memory as to be able to download a snapshot of the entire internet. Everyone will have a super computer in their pocket, in their car, in their homes, on the side of the street, in billboards, and more. We’re already partly there. Can you say…cyberpunk?