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Here Come the Replicants: Google I/O and the Future of AI
Posted On May 15, 2018
If Google has something to say about it, the world portrayed in Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 film Blade Runner 2049 may not be too far away from being real life. In that film, the world was dominated by replicants, beings powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that blurred the lines between what was human and what was machine. These replicants often took on many of the mundane tasks that humans used to carry out.

Cue the real-life replicants. Google I/O 2018, the tech juggernaut’s annual developers conference, was laser-focused on a future when AI and digital assistants are at the front and center of our daily lives. Big and flashy keynotes given by Google executives, similar to the ones given by Steve Jobs back when he announced the iPhone, slowly lifted the veil on Google’s plan to bring AI to the forefront and make the company even more ubiquitous.

Personalized Assistance

Technology that connects with everything nearby is what Google thinks the future will look like. Over the 3 days of Google I/O and in almost every presentation given by the company, the star of the show was Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Google wants Assistant to be the first thing you speak to in the morning. Besides wanting people to have their own Assistants, Google also wants there to be a screen in every room. Its Smart Displays, which will be packaged with Assistant starting this summer, will be at your beck and call, ready to pull up the weather or recipes. With YouTube integration, any video you need will play in any room you inhabit at that moment.

Google developers understand that most people don’t feel comfortable talking to an AI-driven machine, so they’re doing their best to fix that. No longer will the user have to begin chats with Assistant by saying, “Hey, Google.” Now the personal assistant will engage in a continued and conversational discussion with the user. This move is likely Google’s attempt to make Assistant sound friendlier and allow it to be easier to use. Who doesn’t want their own personal assistant?

The High-Level AI of Duplex

Google’s Duplex technology for Assistant was perhaps the most “we might actually be living in a sci-fi movie” feature that was unveiled at Google I/O. Duplex was designed to pretend to be a human assistant that can make phone calls for you, set up appointments, and more. If you want to check out Duplex in action, head on over to YouTube to hear a real-life conversation between a human being and Assistant’s Duplex technology. It’s a dash of terrifying mixed in with a wee bit of excitement about the future.

Google Lens Updates

Already one of Google’s most popular and useful products, Google Maps is also getting some tweaks to better help integrate it into your daily life. Combining Maps with Google Lens, a product that allows people to use their cameras to identify landmarks, trees, and more, makes Maps even stronger and more user-friendly. Confused about exactly what street your map is pointing you toward? No need to worry—you’ll now be able to see an augmented-reality view of where you’re headed thanks to Lens. It’s like you’ve been transported directly into Google’s Street View.

The power of Lens doesn’t stop there. It can now be used to identify text in the real world, and you can copy and paste that text into your phone. See a recipe that you want to save to your phone for later use? Fire up Lens, and that text will be captured into your phone for when you get back to your kitchen.

Also unveiled was Style Match, a feature that allows users to snap a photo of a piece of clothing or shoes and get similar results to help them find and purchase items. Around the world, millions of librarians screamed in joy, as this feature will be for sure used by shoe-loving librarians at many conferences to come.

Gmail, Google Photos, and ML Kit

Being a 3-day conference, Google also had plenty of time to show off a number of new features for many of its well-established products, all of which had a dash of Google’s future-focused, AI-driven approach in them. Gmail users will get the Smart Compose feature, giving those typing an email the option to allow Google to predict and complete their sentences.

Google Photos, already an extremely popular and handy service, will automatically begin suggesting photo edits such as rotations to existing photos, cropping, filters, and more. Google wants Photos to be your online hub for all of the moments you capture, and these AI-driven features are designed to pull you into the service.

Google also announced the ML Kit, a software development kit that gives access to simple machine-learning APIs for both Android and iOS devices. Setting up a machine-learning environment is no easy task, so ML Kit will allow developers to add features such as text recognition, face detection, landmark detection, and more to their own projects.

New Android OS

To top it all off, Google also unveiled the latest iteration of its Android OS, Android P. This OS is available right now for users who want to dip their toes in the public beta, but if you feel like waiting it out, then August 2018 will be your time for an upgrade. It will offer features such as adaptive battery life and subtle user design changes to make a better experience. The unveiling of a new Android OS is usually at the front and center of Google I/O, but with this year’s focus on AI-driven digital assistants, Android took a backseat.

What’s Next?

But what are the costs of Google’s new bold moves? With privacy and personal information at the center of the news today thanks to Facebook’s and Cambridge Analytica’s recent missteps, one must consider what the implications of Google’s AI-filled future may be. Nonetheless, easy access to personal assistants, smart-home devices, and personalized mapping services will most likely be a hit with the public once they see how these technologies make the mundane tasks we all go through daily a bit easier.

Justin Hoenke is a library consultant who is interested in public libraries as community centers, supporting youth services staff to help them achieve their goals, and video game collection development. You can learn more about his work in libraries at Hoenke previously worked in public libraries across the U.S. and New Zealand in leadership and youth services.

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