Google's AI model.
Image: Google

Google’s focus on artificial intelligence took center stage at its I/O 2023 conference with the unveiling of its PaLM 2 learning language model and AI-based improvements to Bard, Search, Maps, Workspace and its other products. On Tuesday, the search giant demonstrated new capabilities in many of its core products, all designed to capitalize on the growing AI trend.

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PaLM 2 large language model

Driving the new and improved products will be PaLM 2 (short for Pathways Language Model), a new large language model designed to be Google’s most advanced AI platform. Built to handle a wide range of tasks, PaLM 2 will be the AI engine behind developments across 25 different Google products and services. Though Google didn’t reveal many details about PaLM 2, the company did boast that the model can handle more than 100 languages with the ability to translate between them.

The PaLM 2 LLM is already up for testing by Google Cloud customers in the medical field where its offshoot, Med-PaLM 2, will answer questions from doctors and other health care professionals. Beyond deploying PaLM 2 in the field of medicine, Google touted how the LLM will be used in such areas as security, math, computer coding and more. As one example, the AI will be able to provide watermarking for photos and other files as a way to distinguish real ones from fake ones.

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Improvements to Bard AI

Launched this past February, Google’s Bard AI was designed as an alternative and rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing AI. But Bard has received a mixed reception as it seemed underpowered and underdeveloped compared with the competition. Now Google is repositioning Bard to be smarter and more capable.

First, Google has removed the Bard waitlist and is expanding the service from just early adopters in the U.S. and U.K. to everyone across more than 180 countries and regions. Beyond supporting just English, Bard is now available in Japanese and Korean with plans to handle 40 languages in total.

Second, Bard will now be powered by PaLM 2, a move that will help it tackle a range of tasks, especially in the areas of math, reasoning and programming. Google said that Bard will be able to generate and debug code in more than 20 different programming languages. Further, the AI can help users understand the generated code by explaining how and why it’s being used. As one example shown at I/O 2023, Google demonstrated how Bard could program a specific chess move using the Python language.

Google also explained how Bard ties into other tools and services from Google and third parties. Users can ask Bard to create an email or document and then export the content directly into Gmail or Google Docs. Bard will also work with Google Lens as users are able to upload an image to the AI for analysis and then ask it to provide a caption or other content.

Bard will also adopt a more visual style by displaying images, tables and other types of formatting in its responses. Users can ask Bard to pinpoint a specific place or landmark cited in a response, and the AI will show them its location via Google Maps. If a table is created as part of a response, users can move that table to a program like Google Sheets where it retains its formatting.

Further, Bard will be able to communicate with third-party products, apps and services via supported extensions. As one example, Bard can create an image using the Adobe Firefly image generator.

Google’s core Search page will also benefit from AI enhancements courtesy of PaLM 2. The new search page will integrate AI-based information with the usual results. To help users focus on the key details, Search will summarize its findings in a single snapshot. The snapshot will contain pointers and links that users can follow to drill down to more details.

The new search is also geared to be more efficient, according to Google. Instead of trying to figure out how to phrase a search query or breaking it down into several different questions, users may be able to type a more complex and detailed query. Google Search will then be better equipped to parse it for them and deliver more accurate results right off the bat.

In some cases, Search will prompt users to ask a follow-up question or display potential questions that they might ask. Choosing a question will then bring them into conversation mode where they will be able to chat with the Search tool to continue to narrow down the information they need.

Enhancements to Google Workspace

Google Workspace is another product getting an AI infusion via PaLM 2. A new feature called Help Me Write available in Gmail and Google Apps will automatically create emails and other content based on requests and descriptions. This option will be available for early testers in June and then will roll out later this year for business users as part of a new AI feature called Duet AI for Workspace.

One tool that will aim to help people better use AI is Sidekick. Writing the correct request, or prompt, when working with an AI can be challenging. The right type of prompt can make a big difference in the response. To help in this area, Sidekick will analyze and summarize a document and then suggest prompts users may want to send to improve the content. As one example shown at I/O 2023, Sidekick suggested adding speaker notes to a presentation in Google Slides.

Improvements to Maps and Photos

With Maps providing directions and information on places around the world, it will also benefit from AI. Maps is taking on a new option called Immersive View for Routes. If a user is mapping out a route to take by walking, driving or biking, Immersive View will visually display the route from start to finish, even providing weather and traffic forecasts along the way. This option will roll out over the summer with support for several major cities, including New York and San Francisco.

Google Photos is yet another product being enhanced with AI via a tool called Magic Editor. Expanding on the current Magic Eraser tool that can erase items in a photo, Magic Editor goes a few steps further. It not only erases but actually moves people and objects in a photo. And if a user moves an object that’s near the edge of the photo closer to the center, Magic Editor will use AI to fill in the missing area.

AI will also play a role in other products unveiled at I/O 2023, including the new Pixel 7a, Pixel Fold and Pixel Tablet. To personalize devices, users can create their own wallpaper based on prompts that they send to an AI.

How and where to access the new features

So how can people tap into Google’s new AI-based products and services? Though most of these won’t be officially available for several months, anyone who’d like a sneak peek can try them out through Google Labs. By signing up to be an early tester with Labs, users can check out the new Search and the new Google Workspace as well as two other tools: an AI-based note taker called Project Tailwind and a tool called MusicLM that turns text into music.

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