Google’s annual I/O developer conference was kicked off in California on Tuesday with several announcements on exciting new tech we can expect to see become reality in the near future. The yearly showpiece brings together some of the top developers from around the world to present to them the latest technology being worked on at Alphabet, the search engine giant’s parent company. Day 1 generally strives to get things going with a bang to get the audience excited so a lot of the most intriguing unveilings tend to be front-loaded. So what were Tuesday’s highlights?
Doubling Down on AI
Alphabet’s R&D division has been increasingly focusing its efforts on computer vision, neural networks and natural language processing, all sub-categories of Artificial Intelligence. An announcement made immediately prior to Day 1’s keynote speech, delivered by CEO Sundar Pichai, that the company’s research unit is to be rebranded as Google AI suggests a doubling down in that direction.
The latest AI tech developments announced, to be rolled out across a variety of Google products over the coming weeks and months included updates to Google Assistant, Google Photos, Smart Displays, Google Maps, Google News. New hardware and app developer kits for Android and iOS were also unveiled.
Google Assistant will benefit from more natural conversation patterns that mean each new request does not need to be preceded by ‘Hey Google’ to activate the smart voice assistant. Multi-faceted requests containing several questions will also be possible. The goal is for interaction to have a more natural conversation feel, moving away from a series of bullet-point questions or commands.
Google Photos will see new editing tools and AI-powered tweaks and fixes suggested for photos. These will include brightness corrections and rotations. Google’s ambition is to become the default cloud storage resource for all of its users’ photos and this is tied in to it further developing photo recognition capabilities. Additionally, the more photos users are encouraged to upload the more data the company has to help improve editing tools..and user preferences and interests.
Google will launch its first smart displays this summer. These devices combine the audio component of an assistant with visual capability and will be powered by Google Assistant and YouTube. These will sit in people’s homes to answer questions and execute commands.
Google Assistant is also being integrated into Google Maps from this summer and will provide better, more personalised and more interactive recommendations to the app. Updates to Google Maps will also see camera and Google Lens integration. This integration will allow users to receive information by pointing their camera at a building or other landmark while inside maps and again contribute towards the tech giant building its massive database.
Google News updates will see greater emphasis given to the ‘trust’ scores of news sources as well as collating different perspectives and angles on the same story in an effort to overcome criticisms around objectivity.
One of the biggest developments presented was the new Android P smartphone operating system, which already exists in Beta. It looks like Android P will mean an operating system that bears a number of similarities to that of the iPhone X, with the home button removed and left and right swipes rotating open tabs and apps.
AI battery management tech will also help improve the battery life of smartphones through smart management of the resources apps use.
Finally, one of the most interesting presentations of Day one was from Alphabet’s autonomous car division Waymo. Dmitri Dolgov, the unit’s head of engineering explained to the audience how Google AI developments has reduced the margin for error in pedestrian detection by a multiple of over 100. The company believes it is significantly ahead of rival Uber in this regard. Waymo will launch a commercial and fully-driverless ride-sharing service in Phoenix later this year, the first of its kind and strong evidence that Alphabet is winning the intensely competitve driverless car race.