Top 5 AI stories from Google I/O 2018
Google’s latest AI offerings from this year’s I/O are game-changing. From Gmail upgrades that can help you compose emails to a smart assistant that can make appointments over the phone, there’s a lot to dig into.
AI is the stuff of science fiction, but it’s never seemed so close. Google I/O has been full of bombshells and fascinating new features for all kinds of Google products. And most of the really cutting edge stuff is all about AI.
Product releases are generally full of superlatives and hyperlatives, but these new features deserve every kudos. As Google CEO Sundar Pichai pointed out, we are at “an important inflection point for technology”. It’ll be fascinating to see these products roll out and how they are adopted for the real world.
Composing emails is hard. You never really know what tone to take and how formal to be. And then there’s the subject line! Now, you can let an AI do the hard work with Google’s Smart Compose. Google has already gotten into the business of writing short responses for you with the Smart Reply feature on Gmail.
To be fair, Smart Compose stops just short of actually having the AI do the writing. But it does offer suggestions to help finish a sentence, which can be accepted by hitting the tab button. It makes spelling and grammar errors a thing of the past.
This feature should start arriving in user’s Gmail accounts in the next few months, so long as they already have the new Gmail enabled.
One of the most astonishing moments of the I/O announcements was when Google showed off their new Assistant making an appointment over the phone to a real human… without sounding like a robot. The language was a little stilted, but no more than mine is when I’m forced to talk to people on the phone. Most excitingly, the person on the other end didn’t realize they were talking to an AI!
Part of Google Duplex, Google Assistant is taking advantage of years’ worth of work into improving human-computer interaction. This technology isn’t for everything, but it can handle specific tasks, like scheduling appointments or making reservations. Within these constrained conversational parameters, Google has created an AI that can handle the natural flow of conversation.
Let’s be clear here: Google Duplex can’t carry out general conversations. (Yet, anyways.) And Sundar Pichai confirmed that there are an awful lot of calls that “didn’t quite go as expected”. This feature is still in development, but should be rolling out soon to home devices.
Good news for anyone without a decent sense of direction. Now, Google is pairing its Street View data with a new AI that will help you navigate any city in Google Maps. All you have to do is turn on your camera. Then, Google gives you interactive, step by step directions to get you where you need to go. Plus, a helpful fox avatar makes sure you’re heading in the right direction.
Google Maps’ new augmented reality option is great for travelers in an unfamiliar city or someone who just gets lost all the time. This kind of usage brings augmented reality from a fun, Pokémon Go kind of game to a compelling use case.
Google is revamping their news offerings. Starting with a personalized selection of five news stories pulled just for you, the “For You” section is composed of a mix of headlines from around the world, local news, and developments on any news stories you’ve been following for some time. Additionally, there’s a “Headlines” section to see any big stories that have developed, with further subsections like tech, business, or sports.
Interestingly, the “Full Coverage” feature from Google News allows users to see how a particular topic is being reported. This aggregate includes social media mentions, respectable publications, and local news sources. There’s even a fact check section in order to combat “fake news”.
Bringing it all home, the Google Home is benefiting from all the Google Duplex advancements. Some of this is playing catch-up with Amazon’s Alexa, like understanding and following multiple commands. But Google Home goes one step further and can sustain a conversation, following clues from previous interactions. Now, the Google Home microphone is on longer, listening harder for 8 seconds after an interaction to see if you want anything else.
In parenting news, Google Home is also trying to make your kids more polite. The “Pretty Please” option refuses to take commands without a little bit of politeness. In fact, it will even encourage them to use the magic word. I don’t know if they’ll need it though: it’ll hard to be rude if you use John Legend as your new Assistant voice.