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Google brings AI writing to Gmail, Docs

The “generative AI” revolution, aka as the ChatGPT effect, is finally arriving in Google country, including Workspace and app building, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Generative artificial intelligence, the ability of software to create new content, is coming to Google Workspace.

Google promises it will “help people create, connect, and collaborate like never before” across Gmail, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Meet, and Chat.

To start, it is introducing AI-powered writing features in Docs and Gmail.

That means you should never get another badly-worded email again. Good luck with that…

According to Google cloud AI and industry solutions vice president June Yang and GM Burak Gokturk, “Generative AI is poised to usher in a new wave of interactive, multimodal experiences that transform how we interact with information, brands, and one another.”

The promise is rich, but as Google showed when it attempted to demo its supposed ChatGPT-killer, Bard, there is still a gulf between AI promise and delivery. But it starts relatively modestly, say Yang and Boturk: “Harnessing the power of decades of Google’s research, innovation, and investment in AI, Google Cloud is bringing businesses and governments the ability to generate text, images, code, videos, audio, and more from simple natural language prompts.”

The timing is probably not coincidental. OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, is about to release the next generation of the engine behind its revolutionary chatbot, currently running on GPT 3.5. GPT 4, expected out at any moment, is described as a multimodal model, which means it can handle images and videos along with text. In other words, tell it in text what you want, and it will produce an article, an image and a video, on demand, and each probably never seen before.

Google is clearly hoping to get a headstart on GPT 4. It is pinning its hopes on the obstacles that the likes of OpenAI and Microsoft have put in the way of general access to generative AI.

“Realising the potential of this technology means putting it in the hands of every developer, business, and government,” say Yang and Boturk. To date, it has been difficult for organisations to access generative AI, let alone customise it, and at times the technology is prone to producing inaccurate information that could undermine trust.

“A decade ago, mobile ecosystems soared as businesses and developers gained safe, secure, and powerful tools suited to new form factors, interfaces, and interactions — and likewise, for generative AI to blossom, organisations need a new generation of tools that make it simple to build generative AI applications, or gen apps.”

To address these needs, they say, Google Cloud will launch a range of products that infuse generative AI into its offerings, “empowering developers to responsibly build with enterprise-level safety, security, and privacy”.

They give these examples of how organisations are looking to unlock the power of generative AI with Google Cloud:

Automated content generation: “Generative AI can facilitate brainstorming, perform copywriting, and generate media assets — meaning that emails, marketing messages, and creative assets can be prototyped in seconds, and ready for review within minutes or hours, not weeks or months. Marketing and creative teams across organizations are looking to augment current workflows with this technology to instantly bring more choices, more flavors, and greater ingenuity to campaigns, programs, ads, and more.”

AI experiences and assistants for virtually any task: “Because generative AI lets businesses and governments turn large, complex volumes of data into summaries, interactive multimedia experiences, and human-like conversations, we see many customers interested in leveraging this technology for not only customer-facing experiences, like brand or product Q&As, but also more complex data science scenarios. For example, gen apps, like digital assistants, can help data analysts and business users up-level their skills, by generating SQL queries, enabling exploration of data through natural language queries, and more.”

Searching and understanding large, internal datasets that span many sources: “Many of our banking customers analyze various internal and external data sources to get a comprehensive view of the market. They’re exploring how to use this technology to ensure that when employees search for information across these sources, they get relevant results, accurate summaries of large documents, tools to refine queries’ sources, and citations and attributions so employees can trust outputs and dig deeper as needed.”

Providing a foundation to jumpstart the wave of gen app startups: “Vertex AI levels the playing field for development with generative AI. By providing API access to foundation models while reducing the massive and prohibitive data requirements these technologies usually entail, Vertex AI will empower builders and innovators of all kinds, from data scientists to self-taught developers, to create the next generation of startups.”

Into the Workspace

Meanwhile, Google VP for product at Google Workspace Johanna Voolich Wright, says that AI has been transformational in building products that people use every day, from Search and Maps, to Gmail and Docs in Google Workspace.

“Across our productivity suite, advances in AI are already helping 3 billion users save more time with Smart Compose and Smart Reply, generate summaries for Docs, look more professional in meetings, and stay safe against malware and phishing attacks,” she says.

“We’re now making it possible for Workspace users to harness the power of generative AI to create, connect, and collaborate like never before. To start, we’re introducing a first set of AI-powered writing features in Docs and Gmail to trusted testers.

“As the world’s most popular and secure cloud-native communication and collaboration suite, getting this right — and at scale — is something we take very seriously. We know from our deep experience in AI and productivity that building features with AI requires great care, thoughtful experimentation, and many iterations driven by user feedback. We do all this while building safeguards against abuse, protecting the privacy of user data, and respecting customer controls for data governance.”

In other words, Google hopes to avoid fallout from the kind of many mailicous uses and misuses that have tainted ChatGPT’s reputation in some quarters.

It has one massive advantage: it will operatrefrom within applications like Gmail and DOcs, as opposed to ChatGPT requiring a separate log-in and then only being available when it has capacity.

But don’t hold your breath. Wright says Google “will be bringing these new generative-AI experiences to trusted testers on a rolling basis throughout the year, before making them available publicly”.

She says it will include features like:

  • draft, reply, summarize, and prioritize your Gmail
  • brainstorm, proofread, write, and rewrite in Docs
  • bring your creative vision to life with auto-generated images, audio, and video in Slides
  • go from raw data to insights and analysis via auto completion, formula generation, and contextual categorization in Sheets
  • generate new backgrounds and capture notes in Meet
  • enable workflows for getting things done in Chat

It sounds worth the wait.

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