So far Google seems to have been oddly lagging in the race to incorporate AI into interfaces. But news from Google I/O suggests that it could leapfrog the competition – and all because of its superior search.
You have to put together some of distinct strands to appreciate how Google is working hard to ensure that as technology moves forward Google will be the chief provider of artificial intelligence.
One is that Google Assistant is now on the iPhone, with an app downloadable from the App Store for iOS 9.1+, as revealed in his part of the I/O keynote by Scott Huffman.
Google Assistant won’t replace Siri but will co-exist with it. One of Siri’s advantages is being multi-lingual and Google Assistant is soon going to catch up by supporting French, German, Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese with Italian, Spanish and Korean following later.
At the moment Google Assistant’s advantage is that it can cope with more complicated queries and its third party integrations let you control connected devices. One new feature announced by Huffman is that Google Assistant now lets you type queries on your phone, useful when you are in a public place or don’t want others to hear you.
Noting that 70% of Google Assistant requests are already in natural language (rather than search keywords) Huffman also revealed that it will soon get more conversational saying:
“The Google Assistant should be hands-down the easiest way to get things done. We’re starting to crack the hard computer science of conversationally.”
Actions on Google, the equivalent of Amazon Alexa Skills, are being extended to the iOS and Android platforms and in future Actions will support transactions, allowing for purchase by voice. This sounds like a catch-up with Alexa, which facilitates ordering a range of goods and services not just those from Amazon.
Google Home’s newly announced ability to to connect you with mobile phones or landlines in the US or Canada free, a facility that can be shared by up to six users distinguished using voice recognition, is a catch up both to Microsoft’s Cortana, which can make Skype calls with it’s new standalone device, the Harmon Kardon Invoke and Amazon’s new Echo Show.
Google Home will also offer proactive information, rather than just provide answers to questions. The example given at the I/O was a warning of heavy traffic. Google Assistant knew that its user needed to be somewhere at a certain time and having checked traffic conditions along the route provided this un-asked for information. While this be construed as artificial intelligence being useful the idea of a personal assistant piping up without being asked to do so is risky. Remember all the negativity when Google Home provided unasked for information about a movie, see Google Home Voice Ad Causes A Reaction.
Other new features added to Google Home are the ability to schedule appointments using it and, coming soon, to add reminders, linking of course to Google calendar and providing the ability to share the information across devices. Later in the year you’ll be able to view your calendar on your TV once visual responses via Chromecast are added to Assistant.
Bluetooth support is also being added to Google Home so that you can play audio from your iOS or Android device. Google is also partnering with HBO NOW, CBS Alll Access and HGTV to expand its range of streaming video and with Spotify for more music. It now has over 70 smart home partners to increase the range of useful things you can do via Assistant. These enhancements sound pretty much like a catch up exercise with Amazon’s Alexa, which currently has a much bigger share of this market, but Google I/O brought news of an innovation that could swing the pendulum in Google’s favor.
Enter Google Lens, which adds AI to computer vision to provides a remarkably powerful search facility.
Introduced by Google CEO Sundar Pichai with Google Lens, your smartphone camera won’t just see what you see, but will also understand what you see to help you take action. So if you point your camera at a flower Google Lens will identify it for you. Follow up actions, in this case are to find the nearest florist.
The example that was greeted by an excited roar at I/O was the scenario of crawling under a desk to find the user name and password of a wifi router. In future you’ll just be able to point your phone at the sticker and the Google Lens + Google Assistant will combo will automatically connect the phone to the Wifi network.
if it’s a business storefront that is in view you can see business listing information and a rating and it’s easy to understand how actions can include making a restaurant reservations. Like Google Goggles, from which Google Lens has developed if you photograph foreign text you’ll get instant translation.
Initially Google Lens will be available integrated with Google Photos, where it has other features, the one demoed was the digital removal of a chain link fence that obscured the view of a young baseball player, Later in the year it will be combined with Google Assistant and it is that partnership that holds out real promise for having intelligent devices that have the potential to interact with the world on behalf of their users.
And when that happens Google Assistant really will be the one you’ll want in your home and in your pocket.