google io conference

AI leads the show at Google’s I/O developer conference

Image credit: reuters

At its annual I/O developer conference, Google has demonstrated a raft of new AI-led features coming to both its 'OK, Google' virtual assistant and its Android mobile platform.

Google Assistant and Google Duplex

Google has been focusing a lot of its efforts on its artificial intelligence platform, Google Assistant, since its announcement in 2016.

The search giant hopes that its AI will eventually be embedded into devices outside of the obvious usage in smartphones. It is already making pushes into cars, IoT devices and its smart home platform Google Home, which has seen uptake by consumers over the last couple of years.

Google said it had improved the natural sound of the Assistant’s voice and will also roll out six new voices later this year - including one provided by singer John Legend.

A major new function was also introduced in the form of Google Duplex, which will allow the Assistant to have natural conversations over the phone to book appointments for haircuts or restaurants, for example.

In a demo, which can be heard here, Duplex inserts pauses and pondering sounds to make it sound less robotic. The hairdresser on the other end of the call appeared to have no idea that she was speaking to an AI.

The new conversational abilities will also come to users who will be able to have a back-and-forth conversation without having to repeat the “Hey, Google” wake phrase before each command.

To encourage children to maintain manners when using Google Assistant, the AI will also now compliment those who say “please” when making a request.

Android P

The latest update to Google’s mobile operating system was demonstrated, which also has a focus on artificial intelligence abilities.

Android P brings Adaptive Battery features which prioritise battery power only for the apps and services used most.

It also uses machine learning to create Adaptive Brightness, learning how users like to set the brightness slider according to their surroundings.

There are also App Actions, which learn user habits and then predict which app a user is likely to turn to next - for example, raising a prompt to resume a Spotify playlist when a pair of headphones is plugged in.

In a nod to the raft of Android phones apeing Apple’s latest smartphone - the button-free iPhone X - Google has baked some gesture interaction into Android P that will allow users to switch apps and go back to the home screen by interacting with a small slider bar at the bottom of the display.

It also includes a range of digital wellbeing tools, including a Dashboard to monitor how a user is spending time on their device and tweak habits as needed. It allows users to set app timers, for example to use with social media apps, if a person is concerned at the amount of time they are spending interacting with them, and will grey out the icon when that time has elapsed.

Do Not Disturb mode, which silences all calls and notifications, can now be enabled automatically by turning a phone face down and can also be activated by Wind Down, which will automatically switch the screen to greyscale to make the phone less appealing to users just before bed.

Gmail

Having been recently redesigned, Gmail is now adding Smart Compose, which can understand context in emails and offer predictive phrase options to speed up the writing process.

Google Lens

Google’s smart camera software is now able to understand words to a greater extent and can copy and paste them from images into the phone as text.

It is now also able to identify fashion items via its new style match feature, while the camera can now also be used to help with navigation, with on-screen visuals to guide users and help them find their bearings.

Google News

The news aggregation app is now predominately powered by AI, with stories pushed to users based on their favoured publications and topics.

However, to promote broader viewpoints and publishers, the app will also have a ‘Full Coverage’ feature which will show how a single story is being reported across multiple sources.

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