Machine learning and user prediction were front and center in yesterday’s Google I/O Keynote presentation, which showed off a variety of ways Google is making your mobile devices know more about you than you know about yourself.
While futuristic self-driving cars and augmented reality maps got the oohs and ahs, the talks kept coming back to how Google is using its astonishing combination of tools and talent to understand its users and create a more seamless and responsive experience.
Google Assistant App
One of the more impressive demonstrations was of the new Google Assistant app making a phone call to book a haircut. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who anchored the Google I/O keynote, told the app to make an appointment for a haircut. The audience was stunned to hear the device then place a phone call to a salon and carry on a conversation with the scheduler on the other end, complete with “umm” and “er, yeah” sprinkled in. “That was a real call you just heard,” Pichai said. “We want to connect users to businesses in a good way. Sixty percent of businesses don’t have an online booking system set up.”
Many of the presentations showed off Google’s ability to understand speech, including “Continued Conversation,” which will allow users to use complex sentences to give instructions or ask questions, and not have to say “Hey Google” at the beginning of each request.
Google’s voice avatars will also have a feature called “Pretty Please,” in which the machine will acknowledge and thank kids for using “please” when they ask for something. “You’re so polite!” the voice enthused in one demo. This feature comes in response to parent’s concerns that digital interfaces have taught kids to demand what they want, rather than request it politely.
Android P Operating System
Dave Burke, VP of Android Engineering at Google, discussed features to be found in the highly anticipated new OS version “Android P.” The new system has three themes: intelligence, simplicity and digital wellbeing.
On the intelligence front, the system has new tools to learn user habits and accordingly adjust everything from battery usage to screen brightness to what actions are offered when the user does a search. He introduced “App Actions” and “App Slices,” which will allow developers to define app actions to be offered to users as the result of a search.
Google’s “Digital Wellbeing” offerings are aimed at concerns that have risen about over-immersion and social isolation from digital media. The initiative has four main pillars:
- Understanding habits
- Focusing on what matters
- Switch off and wind down
- Find balance with family
For example, android devices will be configurable to monitor users’ app usage, and offer gentle nudges to take breaks when time limits have been reached. Another setting will allow you to set a “bed time,” at which time the screen will switch to black-and-white, which has been found to be less stimulating and therefore less likely to keep you awake late at night.
Burke also showed off a number of interface changes, including a single home button and an emphasis on gestures over buttons. Both volume control and rotation have been simplified to eliminate common user aggravations.
Google VP Aparna Chennapragada showed off enhancements to Android’s camera software, including “Google Lens,” an augmented reality tool that can identify text and even allow the user to copy and paste text from images. She impressed the crowd by turning a picture of a document on a table into an editable, printable PDF, but she got even more attention when she showed off a new walking navigation tool that imposed directions on the camera’s view.
Jahn Krafcik, CEO of Waymo Inc., Google’s self-driving car project, gave an impressive run-down of his company’s progress over the last year, including demonstrations of how the vehicles use cameras, lasers and radar to understand what’s going on around them, even when confronted with confusing surroundings or even blizzard conditions. He showed a video of riders in the company’s demo program relaxing and chatting during their rides, and in some cases even falling asleep.
Google News App
Among the other items trotted out were a new Google News app, which will attempt to address the issue of false news sources while allowing users to easily subscribe to newspapers, magazines and online news sources. It will allow a user to get in-depth information on topics by mapping relationships between people, places and things in a news story.
While it will take some time before these changes and new releases are felt at the consumer level, we’re excited about what’s in store. We’d love to talk with you about how to leverage these capabilities in your app, so please get in touch.