The future of the phone gets a bit closer to reality today with the introduction of Google Voice. The key feature of Google Voice is that it recognizes the words in a voicemail message left for you, and can then email the transcript to your inbox or deliver it to your phone via SMS--kind of like having a digital personal assistant managing your calls for you.
The service is a direct descendant of the technology acquired when Google purchased Grand Central in 2007. That company specialized in giving users a single contact phone number that could automatically route calls through to your cellphone, office or home phone. Google seems to have taken that idea and added its own web-based spin, and mixing the speech-recognition technology developed under the Goog-411 directory service.
You can also have Grand Central SMS texts received or sent by your phone, and you can make calls to numbers in the U.S. or overseas from your cellphone, home phone or PC using the service.
The only charge, it seems, is for international numbers, which requires you to pay using Google Checkout.
The mashup between voicemail messages left on a device and email is the most interesting aspect of the technology, of course: It's one definite direction for the evolution of personal communications, and it's especially handy in situations where you'd need to listen to a voicemail but can't--if you're in a long business meeting for example. And the "one number" feature of Grand Central, is definitely useful in a world where we have home, business and cellphone numbers; all of your contact needs are rolled into one system, alongside Gmail. That's assuming your provider of choice is Google, of course. Whether Google will include Voice in its new "behavioral profiling" targeted advertising is unclear.
The service starts today for existing Grand Central customers, with Google "opening it up to others soon."