Google brings automatic voice search to computers running Chrome

The downloadable extension works on both desktop and laptop computers

Laptop and desktop users can now do a Google search without typing just by speaking aloud, with a Chrome extension that Google made available on Tuesday.

The browser extension, Google Voice Search Hotword, can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store and is available both for the desktop and laptops. Google designates it as being in beta.

The tool lets users perform a voice search by going to Google.com and saying, "OK Google," then speaking the search term. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming in the U.S., Google gave some cooking-related examples in an explanatory video: Users can say, "OK Google, compare olive oil and butter," or, "OK Google, what is five tablespoons in ounces?" (Answer: 2.5.)

Reminders can also be set with the service, so people can say, "OK Google, set a timer for 10 minutes," or, "Remind me to buy more olive oil on Sunday afternoon."

The active tab in the Chrome browser needs to be Google.com for it to work. But people can also conduct a new search directly from the search results page. Users will know they are good to go if the microphone icon in the search bar appears bold. To save on battery life, users can set the feature to stop listening after five minutes of inactivity.

There's more going on behind the scenes than just talk. Google is working to improve the ranking algorithms behind its search products to provide better answers when users ask more complex questions. When Google Search turned 15 years old earlier this year, the company rolled out some enhanced features such as comparisons and filters.

Google also previewed some of the new voice search functionalities at its I/O conference for developers this past May. The release of the voice search product is part of Google's larger efforts to build more natural language processing into search, to make the process seem as natural as possible.

During the I/O conference, Google Senior Vice President Amit Singhal likened the company's evolving search functionality to asking a friend for information.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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