June 10, 2023

Google executives hosted the corporate’s I/O developer convention this week, an annual ritual that has lately centered on synthetic intelligence. With OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot seen as difficult Google’s search domination, Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared intent on projecting the message that his firm continues to be the chief in AI—and is dashing up deployment of the expertise. 

Google’s personal chatty massive language mannequin, Bard, was the headliner, and it’s now publicly accessible in 180 nations. Following alongside behind got here a couple of dozen generative AI product options and experiments that may do issues like assist programmers write code, draft emails, or generate speaker notes for Google Slides displays.

However hardly a phrase was stated about Google Assistant, the clunkily named and voice-centric AI assistant that was the corporate’s earlier AI champion. That was a noticeable omission, as a result of Google Assistant took middle stage at I/O on quite a few events in years previous, championed by Pichai as an all-purpose AI helper rising smarter by the yr, and built-in into merchandise like search and the Android working system.

For the higher a part of the previous decade, Google Assistant was a star of I/O, beginning with the introduction of the Dwelling sensible speaker in 2016. Later editions of the occasion noticed the launch of a program that permit exterior builders faucet into voice instructions referred to as actions. Then there have been Google Assistant-powered merchandise like the Nest Hub Max sensible show, launched in 2019, and a startling demo of a characteristic referred to as Duplex that makes cellphone calls to native companies on a person’s behalf.

Google was additionally testing a brand new chatbot, LaMDA, powered by text-generation expertise. However then final fall OpenAI launched ChatGPT, its reply to LaMDA, and every thing modified. The bot was fluent (if flawed) and shortly drew hundreds of thousands of customers, prompting inside strife at Google in regards to the pace of its massive language mannequin deployment. Google launched Bard in February. By April, CEO Sundar Pichai started referring to generative AI as a “super-powered assistant”—leaving Google Assistant within the shade.

The case of the lacking Google Assistant on the AI jamboree this week raises questions in regards to the firm’s AI technique. Why would one of many largest AI tasks at Google be disregarded of its generative AI push?

One doable reply is that Google is scrambling to catch up after getting caught flat-footed by ChatGPT, and easily hasn’t had time to correctly combine Bard-style fluency into the older Google Assistant.

In response to questions on Google Assistant’s absence from the I/O keynote, firm spokesperson Katie Hutchison stated that Google Assistant will energy some unique options in Google’s new foldable smartphone, similar to responding to the command “Hey Google, take a selfie.” It would even be accessible within the new Pixel Pill.

Google Assistant has 700 million month-to-month customers as we speak, Hutchison says, whereas Bard is “an early experiment.” Experiments and person testing to tell methods to apply Bard throughout Google merchandise are ongoing.

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