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Google ups the ante on AI to compete with ChatGPT. Here’s how search and Gmail will change.

What if I told you that writing emails could actually be fun? Or that “Googling” a topic could give you a concise summary of what you’re trying to find without having to click through huge numbers of links?  

These and many other clever new capabilities will shortly become part of your everyday computing experience thanks to new features Google introduced this week at their annual Google I/O conference. Leveraging a red-hot and truly transformative technology known as generative AI (artificial intelligence), Google unveiled a suite of new functions for both PCs and smartphones that are going to quickly make the old ways of doing these tasks feel downright archaic.

In the case of writing emails, for example, instead of getting the occasional word choice or word suggestion that Gmail has started to offer, a new Help Me Write function will generate an entire message based on a simple request of what you want.

Need to send a note to a company for a refund, for example, or follow up with a colleague on a project? Just type in a description of what you need, and Gmail will not only create a fully formed message using relevant information from previous emails in your inbox, it will also let you adjust the length and the tone (conversational, formal, etc.) of the message it creates. It’s like a magical digital assistant. You can edit or adjust what it creates before you hit send, but the time and frustration savings can be enormous.

Beyond practical usage, you can also use these generative AI text capabilities for all kinds of cool creative applications. Want to create song lyrics about a particular topic or generate bedtime stories for your kids based on whatever theme, character, or animal they happen to be currently interested in? No problem. Plus, as you’ll discover, the results can be astonishingly good.

If you also happen to use Google Docs, Google plans to bring similar capabilities there using what it’s calling Duet AI for Workspace. Like Microsoft’s recently announced Copilot features for an upcoming version of their M365 (formerly Office) productivity applications, Duet AI will enable advanced generative AI capabilities in all the applications of Google’s Workspace productivity suite, including Sheets for spreadsheets, Slides for presentations, Google Chat and Google Meet for video meetings and collaboration.

Whether for personal or work use, features like automatic slide design with built-in image creation tools or instant formatting of data based on intelligent analysis of the content in a spreadsheet are going to dramatically change how people start to get things done.

When it comes to searching, the process of “Googling” something is about to undergo the most dramatic changes you’ve ever seen. One of the most impressive capabilities of the technology underlying generative AI is the ability to summarize large amounts of information in a very concise manner. Practically speaking, what that means is it can take data from multiple sources and stitch it all together in a way that gives you exactly what you want in a single response. Plus, it opens the possibility of making extremely detailed requests and getting answers that are impressively complete.

Say, for example, that you want to plan a vacation trip. Traditionally, you’d probably start by searching for things to do and then places to stay at that location. After that, it might be looking for good restaurants in the area. Then you’d pore over tens or hundreds of links and slowly try to piece together an itinerary of some kind.

With generative AI-powered search, you’ll be able to ask Google for, say, a five-day itinerary for a family of four that includes all the activities and all the restaurants, while accommodating kids who only like pasta and parents who want good cocktails at dinner. Amazingly, it can do all that in a single response.

If your searches are focused on shopping, not only will the updated Google give you suggestions on the best choices for as specific a request as you’d like to make, it can provide ancillary information on how to best use or do whatever is relevant for what you’re buying.

What’s also intriguing about these new search capabilities is they inspire the desire to do further investigations on a topic. It’s much easier (and more enjoyable) to dive a bit deeper into any given subject, making the vast resources of the internet even more useful than they’ve ever been before.

As mentioned, all of these capabilities and many more in other Google applications like Maps, Photos and Universal Translator are being enabled by a technology called generative AI. This is a relatively new type of artificial intelligence that doesn’t just analyze and respond to data but can generate new information based on an input request using sophisticated data models.

Most of the excitement in this area was started by the debut late last year of a chatbot called ChatGPT by a small company called OpenAI. The impact of ChatGPT – which quickly became the fastest-growing technology-focused service of all time, even beating Netflix in the time it took to get to 1 million subscribers – sent shockwaves throughout the entire tech industry. Since then, every company in the tech world has been scrambling to come up with either competitive responses to ChatGPT or offerings that allow them to take advantage of the massive groundswell of interest in generative AI for both the consumer and business worlds.

At the recent Google I/O event, however, it became very clear that Google has very quickly responded and is set to release a huge range of generative AI-based offerings. From a new large language model (LLM) called PaLM 2 that underlies much of this new work, to the full release of their own chatbot called Bard, to developer and business-focused tools, as well as all the generative text, image and enhanced search functions described above (and lots more), Google finally showed the world what an AI powerhouse it can be.

It’s still early days for generative AI and there are still several challenges around accuracy and potential bias issues that Google and every other company participating in this area are working to solve. But you can’t help getting excited about the impressive range of capabilities that we’ll all soon have access to. The future, it seems, is now much closer than we expected it to be.

Category: Technology

Source: USA Today Technology

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