Google Voice is one of those technical advancements that could change your way of communication. With it, you can sign up for a single phone number that rings every phone you own. Then you can hand out the number to everyone you know.
Google acquired GrandCentral.com, the creator of the service, in 2007, and changed the name to Google Voice. The service now supports speech-to-text, using Google's technology, so that voicemails are transcribed automatically and sent to you by email.
Once you sign up, when someone calls your Google Voice number, your home phone, cell phone, desk phone at the office, and even your Internet voice-over-IP number will ring, all at the same time, no matter where you are. It means you can switch phone numbers at any time, but retain a single Google Voice number for years.
This week, the service started granting access for public use, so if you signed up several weeks or months ago, you will likely receive a message that the service is live. If you have not signed up, you can do so here.The service has several interesting additional perks. When a call arrives, you can press 4 to record the call. You can also listen in while the caller leaves a message, and interrupt to answer. Recorded calls are not transcribed, but you can listen to them online.
There are some minor caveats. Some people will be reluctant to give over yet another aspect of their life to the giant; Google reads our mail, and now it's listening to our phone calls. Placing calls is cumbersome: you have to go to a Web browser on your phone, access Google Voice, select which phone to use, and place the call. And Google Voice simply hands the call off to your wireless carrier. But the power of one number ringing many lines, and near-instant text transcription of voicemail, is enough to make the service worth a try.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.