Image: Dustin Drankoski/Mashable

All the big tech companies are in a race to make their digital assistants sound more natural.

For Google, the next step to natural conversation with its Assistant is to eliminate the need to say, “OK, Google” every time you have a request. Continued Conversation will keep the Assistant listening to multiple queries as long as you keep talking and responding. The feature is launching today for English-speaking customers in the United States on the Home, Home Mini, and Home Max, which they can turn on via settings in the Google Assistant app.

You still need to say the activation word to begin the conversation with the Assistant, but with Continued Conversation engaged, it keeps listening for 8 seconds after the last interaction to see if you’re still talking. If it does hear you speaking, it will continue to listen and respond for as long as the interactions continue. The LEDs on the front of the Home, Home Mini, and Home Max will stay illuminated to indicate the speaker is still actively listening. 

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Make no mistake: We’re still a long way from digital assistants capable of authentic conversation, but this is a step toward that goal. You can now ask about the weather for today and then ask for an extended forecast, without using the trigger. Or you could use it to read back your grocery list and then add or remove an item from it.

Google showed Continued Conversation at the company’s I/O developers conference last month, along with Google Duplex, which took natural conversation to a whole other level: The pre-recorded demo showed the Assistant proactively calling a salon to schedule a haircut, complete with conversational quirks like, “Mm-hmm.”

Continued Conversation does mean your Google Home will be listening to speech more often, which raises some privacy concerns, but remember: this is a mode you need to consciously turn on and can turn off anytime. To do so, just go to the settings menu in the Assistant app on your iOS or Android device. You can also review all the interactions via the My Activity section in the app.

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