Google’s annual conference kicked off on Tuesday with its typical rapid fire opening keynote. The keynote is one of a handful of events each year that can give you insight into the technology industry’s bleeding edge. It’s where Google — a massive, sophisticated, $728 billion company — announces all the important product updates it is about to roll out. It’s a place to get a glimpse of the future.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Verbal ticks make AI sound human.
Google’s Assistant will soon call restaurants, hairdressers, and other businesses to set up appointments and reservations for you. Yes, you read that right. The AI will call and talk like a human. In a demo, Google’s AI sounded surprisingly human in conversation. The key: It inserted a lot of, “uhh” and “umm” to make it sound like it was thinking. Freaky!
2. Robots making calls on our behalf is going to be weird.
For a long time, technologists have referred to AI assistants as personal “agents” that will go out in the world and do stuff for you. But that promise always seemed disjointed from reality because these agents never interacted with real people. That is about to change. And it’s going to super weird. There’s simply something eerie about letting an AI interact with others on the phone on your behalf. But, hey, it also beats talking on the phone.
3. Most of the emails you send are probably pretty dumb.
How can we tell? Because otherwise a robot wouldn’t be able to write them for you. Google will soon suggest phrases to you as you compose emails in Gmail. In a demo Tuesday, typing “Let’s,” led Google to suggest “get together soon.” Then the person typed “for t…” and the AI suggested “for tacos.” It’s basically autocomplete but for email. Soon, you may only need to express an intention (I want to go out for tacos with Jim) and the AI will write the entire email for you. The future may be cool, but it’s also a humbling reminder that much of what we do is easily replicable by machines.
4. We’ve been doing walking navigation all wrong!
When you use Maps apps for walking directions, it’s often a pain to figure out where that little blue dot is taking you. Google knows this, and it’s going to use the camera as a solution, showing you where to go by overlaying arrows on top of what your camera is seeing. The solution is so obvious it makes you wonder why we were using those little blue dots in the first place.
5. Kids mode for our devices is going to be a thing.
It seems like designing for kids is going to be a new focus among big tech companies. Amazon recently created a version of its Alexa assistant that’s meant for kids. Google Tuesday announced it would follow suit with kid-friendly features for its Google Assistant, creating “pretty please” mode, which forces kids to say “please” before they ask it for something. The Assistant will also reinforce their good manners with positive encouragement when they’re polite.
6. We’re going to finally be able to stop saying “Hey Google” every time we want to speak to Google Assistant.
Google is going to let you speak to Google Home without having to say “Hey Google” every time you say something. Say it once at the start of a conversation and you can keep talking with it. Here’s a sample dialogue:
7. Google’s Camera Will Tell You Where You Can Buy The Stuff It Sees.
On a number of Android devices, Google’s camera will show you where you can buy the things you’re pointing it at. It’s doing this by integrating its Lens product into the main camera apps. Amazon, which has its own visual search, probably isn’t thrilled.
8. Data collection can spin up amazing things (sometimes).
Google knows a ton about you, and sometimes that can be really useful. A new Android feature, called Actions, will suggest things for you to do on your phone, when it feels the time is right. When it thinks you might want to call someone, it can pop their contact on screen, and you can call them with one tap. When you connect your headphones, it can suggest music from an artist you might like and open a music app with the right song loaded up in a single tap. Data collection has its obvious drawbacks, it can also enable some really fantastic experiences. The tradeoff is complicated.
9. Google is trying to win over news publishers with new subscription features.
Google is making a big play for news publisher affection. It’s building subscriptions into its new Google News app, and a subscription tool called Subscribe With Google that will let people subscribe to news publishers across the web and on their devices via a single place. Its also prioritizing quality news publishers in the “full coverage” section of Google News. Your move, Facebook.
10. Google is playing hardball with its competitors.
Google News is coming for Facebook. Google Lens is aimed at Amazon. And for Yelp there’s this: Google is introducing personalized ratings into Maps that will show you how much it thinks you will like a certain place vs. the broader population’s evaluation of it. It will also suggest new places for you to visit in a new Google Maps tab called “For You.”
11. John Legend is Google’s best spokesperson. Ever.
Google will release the Google Assistant in John Legend’s voice later this year. The singer, songwriter and actor also starred in a Google Home ad in March, alongside his wife Chrissy Teigen, who now seems ready to replace him with his robotic other.
12. Not enough people at Google are familiar with burgers and beer.
As he kicked off IO, Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for Google messing up both the cheeseburger emoji and the beer emoji. Typical Silicon Valley. You can bet if it was tofu and kombucha they would’ve nailed it.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
Contact Alex Kantrowitz at email@example.com.
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