Google's new calling screen feature was low-key highlight of Pixel 3 event

The new feature will use on-device AI to screen phone calls to help avoid spam calls.

As Google was unveiling a range of new devices on Tuesday – including new phones and a tablet – the company also announced a new AI tool to help prevent and block spam phone calls.

Being initially rolled out on the new Pixel 3, virtual helper the Google Assistant will now offer to screen a call that comes into your phone from an unknown number.

If a user chooses this option, they will be shown a transcript of the AI asking the caller to identify themselves and why they’re calling, allowing them to choose whether to take the call or not.


Options on-screen will give users the choice to jump onto the call or send a quick reply such as “I’ll call back later”, as well as options to end the call or mark the number as spam.

It follows on from the Duplex feature the company first showed off in the summer, where Google Assistant can be used to complete phone calls to businesses on a user’s behalf.

Questions have been raised about how comfortable people would be if asked to converse with a machine, but Google said it would take steps to give those making and receiving calls options when it comes to the technology.

“As we develop new calling technologies, we believe it’s critical that we help people understand the context of the conversation,” the firm said in its Pixel 3 blog post.

“We’ll disclose to businesses receiving the call that they’re speaking to an automated system, and we have developed controls to protect against spam and abuse, as well as the ability for a business to opt out of receiving calls.

“For Call Screen, we will also let the caller know that a screening service is being used.”

The Call Screen feature will be introduced in the US first, while Duplex is to be made initially available in New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area as part of its first roll-out.

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