The big bet by Google for the next ten years is the incredibly useful Google Assistant

Sundar Pichai believes we are on the verge of the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, a seminal moment in Technology.

At the Made By Google event, several consumer electronics products with the Google branding were launched. The lineup included Google Home, Google WiFi, Chromecast Ultra,  Daydream View and Pixel smartphones. While the physical products may be exciting, another technology offering by Google is silently working behind the scenes, and is integrated into many of these products. Google Home and the Pixel phones will be using Google Assistant, a natural language artificial intelligence that can only get better as more people use it.

The big bet by Google for the next ten years is the incredibly useful Google Assistant

Google Assistant is the Intelligent Agent in Google Home.

At the start of the Keynote, Sundar Pichai said that humans were at a seminal moment in Technology. About every ten years, there is a disruptive new change in technology that connects more people and delivers them essential services. In the mid 80s, this was the advent of the personal computer and in the mid 90s, the World Wide Web changed everything. Over the course of the previous decade, we have been living in a mobile first world, where smartphones were the revolution. Now it time for another transformation. Pichai believes we are on the verge of the emergence of Artificial Intelligence.

Sundar Pichai talks about the transformation from a mobile first world to an AI first world at the Google October Hardware Event Keynote

Sundar Pichai talks about the transformation from a mobile first world to an AI first world at the Google October Hardware Event Keynote

The consumer electronics devices offered by Google may succeed or fail, they are transient anyway, but Google Assistant is here to stay. It will continue to learn, get better, and will increasingly become a part of our lives. Google has always been big on Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing.

Parsey McParseface is one of the most powerful English language parser that allows machines to understand English, and Google has open sourced it. Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) uses neural networks to translate from Chinese to English, an challenging language pair for translation. 18 million requests a day are handled rapidly and accurately. Google plans to introduce the system for translation of more language pairs.

google-ai-ml

Google has improved its Machine Learning capabilities for image captioning to make the captions more human

TensorFlow is a Machine Learning framework used by Google for many of its products, including its translation services and photo based services. TensorFlow is also open source. The secret to the AI capabilities of Google is a custom chip known as the Tensor Processing Unit. These chips were developed in stealth, and used by DeepMind to defeat a professional Go master, an intuitive game that has historically been a tough challenge for machines. Google Assistant uses the Tensor Processing Units to customise query results and deliver them over a Natural Language interface.

The Tensor Processing Unit

The Tensor Processing Unit

Google Assistant is going to be available to third party developers by Actions on Google. This will allow developers to offer their services through the Assistant. It may be simple voice commands for home automation, such as "turn off the bedroom lights", or it can be more complex services that require back and forth interaction with the users, such as booking a hotel room or calling for a taxi. Google Assistant can also be baked into third party hardware offerings, or hacked into a Raspberry Pi by an Individual. Google intends to partner with publishers and businesses as well, to make Assistant a richer experience.

It is like talking to a real person.

It is like talking to a real person. Maybe Google Assistant can pass the Turing test.

Google Assistant is conversational. You can just have a chat with it if you want, without actually having a specific goal in mind. If you say Hi, Assistant greets you back with your name. If you ask it to do something, it will not just respond immediately, it says "Ok" first, just as a human would.

Google Assistant is contextual, you can ask follow up questions, and it remembers information about you. For the first time this year, Pichai wrote the yearly Google Founder letter which gave some clues about the future plans of Google. This includes considering demographic factors, environmental variables and location characteristics to deliver more relevant search results. Google Assistant is personalised. The results it delivers are tailored for your individual usage and habits, and it gets increasingly better with use. The experience with Google Assistant will not be the same for two people.

As of now, Google Assistant is only available on Allo, an instant messaging app by Google. You do not need other friends using the App to find it useful, Google Assistant is reason enough. Assistant is powerful, even in the preview version. The capabilities of Google Assistant are vast, and it can only get better over time. You can set up subscriptions, like send me tech news daily at four pm, and Assistant does that. You can ask for periodic cat videos or weather updates as well. You can use it to plan an evening out with friends. It can find nearby restaurants based on your location and sort them by rating.

Google Assistant makes searching a group experience

Google Assistant makes searching a group experience

If you look for movies, it shows the nearest screenings, that can be narrowed down by genres such as romance, action or comedy. In a group chat, Assistant makes the whole activity of searching a multi person experience. You can narrow down the search, or look for alternatives, till you get what you want. For example, one person may look for events nearby, and another can narrow it down to say music concerts or expand the scope of the search by looking for events farther away.

google-assistant-games

Google Assistant can help you pass the time with games

You can ask it general knowledge questions, and it either delivers the search results, or responds in a text bubble. Google Assistant can be used as a handy translator, Translate "Where is the Airport" in French. Just type in "Interesting Fact" and Assistant will tell you that most dogs can understand up to 165 words. You can ask it to recite a poem, or send in a poem at a particular time every day. If nothing else, you can just have a chat with the Assistant.

I can do this all day.

I can do this all day.

And really, Assistant is an interesting intelligent entity to have a casual chat with. You can play games as well. There are games based on the previous Google Doodles, classics such as Tic-Tac-Toe and Solitaire. There are quiz games in various categories, including Bollywood, Cricket and Geography. There are chat based games as well, where Assistant presents various puzzles using emoji, and you have to pick one of the emoji to answer. The games seem to be delivered over the web, as there is a slight load time, similar to the newly announced HTML5 based chatbot gaming platform by Telegram.

Assistant ties in to other apps by Google, including Play Music and Keep, an application by Google for notes, memos and lists. It can potentially support media streaming services and home automation kits if these are available.

Google Assistant has quizzes in many categories. The answers are Shankar Mahadevan, Vivek Oberoi and Bhutan.

Google Assistant has quizzes in many categories. The answers are Shankar Mahadevan, Vivek Oberoi and Bhutan.

If you want to try out Allo for Google Assistant, a word of warning for those who are concerned about privacy. Google saves Allo conversations on its servers, and uses Machine Learning to deliver the personalised experience that it is good at. This is a win for Machine Learning, and a loss for Privacy.

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