Google opened its annual developer conference known as I/O with a keynote led by CEO Sundar Pichai at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. For Google, I/O is its most important conference, which sets the tone of future products for the year. Android P, a more powerful Google Assistant, revamped Google News app and new features to Maps, Google Lens were the major announcements. However, the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) on powering many of these products was clear in the keynote.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai opened the keynote by pointing out how ML and AI tools from the company were helping in areas like medicine and healthcare. But he was also clear that one needs to address some serious questions about the impact of technology on society. “It’s equally clear that we can’t just be wide-eyed about what we create. There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of technology and the role it will play in our lives,” said Pichai in the opening part of his keynote.
“We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately—and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right. It’s in that spirit that we’re approaching our core mission,” he added.
Google’s AI and ML contributions in Health
Pichai began his keynote by talking about the impact of ML and AI in the field of healthcare. Google’s work in the field of using AI to detect diabetic retinopathy has been well-known. But as Pichai explained, ML tools could also predict cardiovascular events in the future based on the patterns seen in this retinal images. The field trials for this will begin soon, but the key takeaway is that Google’s AI tools could soon assist doctors in figuring out which patients are at higher risk and need for more medical care. “We want AI to work globally and we are opening centres around the world,” added Pichai. He added that Google’s AI assistants are offering more insights and helping in areas where doctors are scarce.
The keynote also saw major announcements around Google’s products like Android, Google Assistant, Google Maps, along with a new revamped version of the Google News app.
Google Assistant New Features
Google Assistant will now be more ‘naturally conversational’ with users. For starters, users will not have to say ‘Ok Google’ every time they wish to ask Google a question and will be able to continue a conversation. It will also have a new ‘Multiple Actions’ feature, where users will be able to give more than one request at the same time. For children, Google is adding a ‘Pretty Please’ to make sure that they say ‘please’ when making a request to Google Assistant.
But the highlight of Google Assistant will be the ability to call and book appointments on behalf of the user. During the keynote demonstration, Google show how a user will be able to tell the Assistant to make a call to a restaurant or a hair salon in order to book an appointment. In the demo, the Assistant has a real-life conversation with another person on the call, as it tries to figure out the book. The technology which makes this possible is called Google Duplex and relies on deep learning to make the call and carry out the conversation. The Assistant will be able to understand the context when making a call. However as Pichai emphasised, this is still a work in progress. “We will need to get this right,” he said adding that the new feature for Google Assistant will come later, though the company has not given a specific data.
Google Assistant will also get six new voices, including that of singer John Legend.
Smart features for Gmail, Google Photos
Gmail will get a new Smart Compose feature soon driven by ML, which can complete sentences, add address, etc when a user is typing the mail. The Google Photos app will also get a new smart action feature where it can recognise documents and convert them to PDFs immediately.
Google News is revamped
The other core product which Google has revamped its Google News. “I think there is more great journalism being produced today than ever before. This is why we have reimagined our News product. We are using AI to bring forward the best of journalism,” says the Google CEO. Google News app is built on the Material theme design and will rely on AI and ML to showcase content to the user. The design puts a focus on pictures, videos with news articles. It will also come with a Newscasts feature, which will show all the details on a topic in a one place, from tweets to articles to video to in-depth articles. Google News will also have a ‘Full Coverage’ option as well on each topic, which will give the complete picture of a story, including results from variety of news sources, tweets, videos, opinion pieces, etc.
The company is also adding a new Subscribe with Google feature, which will let users access all paid/subscription based news content by signing in with their Google account. This will let users access paid content everywhere on Google Search, Google News, and the publishers’ own site. It will be rolling out in the coming weeks. The new Google News app will roll out in 127 countries on Android and iOS over the coming week.
Android P announcements: Helping with Digital Well-Being
This will be a part of the Android P operating system where Google will help users keep a track of their phone addiction and unplug from devices. The new Android P OS will have a Dashboard to tell a user the number of times they unlocked the phone, checked notifications, tell them when to take a break, how long they spend on an app. It will even let users put an App Timer to limit usage. Also YouTube will tell users when to take a break from watching content and show them how many hours of video consumption has taken place. YouTube will roll out these features in the following week.
For Android P, Google is introducing a new ‘Adaptive Battery’ feature, which will figure out which apps one will use in the next few hours, which apps one will not use. Google says it will result in 30 per cent reduction in CPU app wakeups with this new feature and help save battery life on phones. Google announced a ML Kit for Android P as well with ready-to-use models for developers. The ML Kit will be cross-platform and working on Android and iOS. Android P’s UI will also come with new swipes and gestures for navigation.
Google Maps, Lens: New features
Coming to Google Maps, the company announced a new ‘For You’ feature, which will show places which are interesting to the user, like restaurants that are closeby. A new ‘Your Match’ feature will help show the user places which they are likely to prefer based on previous ratings, interests shared. Google is relying on Machine Learning for this feature on Maps. There’s also a new Share with Friends feature for real-time decisions. Friends can vote in real-time to pick on a place. Google Maps will also get a new feature where a user will be able to rely on the camera for navigation. Google calls it Visual Positioning System (VPS), which relies on the camera to locate the user.
Google Lens will get some new features in the coming week, which will include the option for real-time search results, ability to show snippets of information when user points the camera to a text like say a menu. There will also be a ‘Style-match’ feature on Google Lens to show users similar products they can buy based on the picture. Lens will be part of the Camera on Pixel, LG G7 and other smartphones.
Waymo Driverless car
The keynote also had the appearance of John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo on stage. Waymo is the self-driving car project, which is part of Google’s parent company Alphabet. The Waymo CEO announced that the city of Phoenix in Arizona will be the first place where Waymo’s driverless service will launch later this year. A fully driverless car will come and take the user to their destination. Waymo will have an app which will let users book these driverless cars. Waymo also revealed they are teaching these driverless cars new skills, which includes self-driving in difficult weather like heavy snowfall.