On Tuesday, Google kicked off I/O, its annual developer conference held in Mountain View, CA. While Android is often the main focal point of I/O, Google Assistant was the star this time around.
With the increasing commoditization of hardware and software, artificial intelligence (AI) has become the next big battleground for the major tech giants. For Google, the Assistant is its most forward-facing effort in the space to showcase the work it has accomplished in machine learning and neural networks.
Perhaps the most impressive application of AI in Google Assistant is through a new technology called Duplex, which will allow Google Assistant to make calls and schedule appointments for you. For example, during the I/O keynote, Assistant called a hair salon to book an appointment for a woman. It sounded like a real person on the phone, and it was able to book an appointment during a certain time window, for a specific service.
With Duplex, Google Assistant can also book a restaurant reservation. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he wants it to eventually be able to book a doctor's appointment for a parent with a sick child.
Google leaders called Duplex an "experiment" during the keynote, but they did say more would be coming from Duplex this summer. If it is further teased out, we could hypothetically see Duplex used as a personal business assistant, booking meetings with clients or booking business travel.
For more information on Duplex, check out our sister site CNET's feature on the technology here.
Another new Assistant feature called Continued Conversation makes interactions with the assistant more natural. Pichai said that users will no longer have to say "Hey Google" every single time they need something, allowing for actual back-and-forth conversations.
Pichai also announced that Google Assistant would be getting six new voices, including that of musician John Legend.
Additionally, Google smart displays, which work with Assistant, will go on sale in July, and Google Assistant is coming to navigation in Google Maps this summer.
To improve scheduling and productivity, users will now be able to swipe up on Google Assistant to get a visual snapshot of their day, including their lists and reminders. This feature will be available on Android by summer, company leaders said, and on iOS later this year.
Of course, Android was also talked up at I/O this year. In the keynote, Android head Dave Burke explained how the OS's new design makes multitasking easier to understand, which is good news for professionals.
"The phone is adapting to me and trying to help me get to my next task more quickly," Burke said in the keynote.
New work profiles and security advancements are also welcome updates for working professionals. Encryption will be required for data traffic, and Android P also includes an implementation of the GlobalPlatform Open Mobile API (OMAPI) for additional security.
SEE: Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)
For developers, Burke announced MLKit, a new set of APIs available through Firebase. These are ready-to-use models, built on TensorFlow Lite, and optimized for mobile. These will run on Android and iOS, Burke said.
Android P beta is available now on select Android phones, Burke announced.
For a more in-depth look at Android P, check out our Cheat Sheet.
AI everywhere else
AI was everywhere at I/O, but there were a few specific use cases that will mean the most for professionals.
Smart Reply in Gmail is getting an extension called Smart Compose. The feature will use AI to suggest complete sentences in the background as you write an email. This could help save professionals time, especially when composing a bunch of similar emails at once.
Google Photos can now convert document images into PDFs, thanks to AI, Google leaders announced. This could be helpful for cataloging meeting literature, or digitizing receipts for expense reports.
And, by using Google Lens, a user can copy and paste text from images of documents, according to Google's Aparna Chennapragada.
Google's Jen Fitzpatrick explained that Google Maps will now show street view for walking directions, using AR to overlay arrows showing which street to walk down. For business travelers in a new city, this could make it easier to find your meetings downtown.
Hardware was also mentioned, as Pichai announced Google's new TPU 3.0 chips to power AI services and development.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Using a technology called Duplex, Google Assistant may soon be able to book work meetings, schedule client dinners, and more.
- AI will make many Google services more useful for business professionals, including Gmail, Maps, Lens, and Photos.
- How to implement AI and machine learning (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)
- Google Research becomes Google AI to reflect AI-first ambitions (ZDNet)
- Google Assistant: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Android Auto's future: Google teases new features as Volvo adds Maps, Play Store (ZDNet)
- Google's Android Things is here, boosting security for enterprise IoT deployments (TechRepublic)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.