- 1:32 PM
GOOGLE’S NEW ALLO MESSAGING APP GETS ITS EDGE FROM AI
It’s called Messages. Microsoft has one, too. It’s called Skype. Facebook has two of them: WhatsApp and Messenger. They’re all —smartphone apps that let you chat with friends and family. But they’re rapidly morphing into something else, a new kind of super communication tool that does so much more than just shuttle texts between people.
So, it should come as no surprise that is building a new one of its own. It’s called Allo. The big difference is that, well, it comes from Google.
Unveiled this morning at the company’s annual Google I/O conference and due to arrive later this summer, Allo will run on both Android Phones and the Apple iPhone, and early signs suggest it’s at least a little bit smarter than other messaging apps, thanks to various artificial intelligence technologies that already underpin so many other Google services. Google already offers messaging apps like Google Messenger and Hangouts, but this goes several steps further.
As you chat with friends and family, Allo will automatically analyze what you’re saying and suggest quick replies . It will even analyze photos that arrive from friends and suggest replies based on what it “sees” in these images. If someone sends you a photo of a graduation ceremony, for instance, Allo will offer a “congratulations” or a “well done,” and you can chose to send—or not. But above all else, Allo is different because of the way it lets you interact with that centerpiece of Internet life: the Google search engine.
From inside Allo, Google says, you can chat with its search engine as you chat with everyone else. While wishing your sister a happy birthday, you can ask a Google bot to serve up an appropriately festive photo. As you discuss the works of the playwright with a colleague, you can ask the bot for his bio. If you’re chatting with your old college buddies, trying to arrange a dinner, you can ask the bot for restaurant suggestions and even make a reservation. “Where this gets really powerful,” says Amit Fulay, the Google product manager who oversees Allo, “is when you can bring the assistant into group conversations.”
But Google’s big idea goes farther than that. As Google director of engineering Erik Kay describes it, the vision is to bring all sorts of online information and services directly into your online conversations. Rather than bring all your friends into one app and then another and then another, he says, you can bring the apps to them, all via a Google-supplied layer of artificial intelligence.
The Search Assistant
Chatbots are all the rage among tech companies big and small. Microsoft and Facebook are pushing them into their own messaging apps, and so are countless startups, . Some, like Slack, are using bots to beef up communications among co-workers. Others, most notably Facebook, are pushing towards bot-powered messaging services that supplant apps as the way we interact , from restaurants to airlines to retail stores.
In China, to do everything from buying movie tickets to summoning rides to booking medical appointments. American tech companies believe it’s only a matter of time before Americans start using their messaging services in much the same way.
With Allo, Google is moving down the same path as Facebook. The company says it’s partnering with OpenTable, for instance, so that you can seamlessly make restaurant reservations via that Google bot, and it plans on tying into other businesses as time goes on. “You can imagine us exposing hooks where all sorts of other services can integrate,” Fulay says. “In a group chat, you get movie tickets or get a cab.” But that’s just part of Google’s ambition.
The bot inside Allo is known, at least for the moment, as the Google search assistant (lowercase “s,” lowercase “a”). And in Google’s grand vision, this assistant won’t just live within Allo. Later this year, sometime after Allo is released, the company says, it will also roll out a device that sits in your living room and lets you chat with the Google search assistant using your nothing but your voice. It’s called Google Home, and it’s a bit like the Echo, a device from online retail giant Amazon. With Google Home, the company says, you can not only interacts with the Google search engine and other Google services, but control other devices around the house, including TVs and stereos, thermostats and smoke detectors.Google Home
So, that bot inside Allo is part of an even broader movement across the tech world, a movement towards online services that let us chat with all sorts of machines as we chat with each other—or at least kinda like we chat with each other. This includes not only the Amazon Echo, but smartphone “digital assistants” like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, which also respond to the spoken word.
Google already offers its own digital assistant on Android phones, but now it aims to go much further by using its latest AI technologies to build digital assistants across myriad apps and devices. Just last week, Google that serves as the foundation of its efforts to build services that can understand the natural way that you and I talk. It’s based on an , and Allo will show just how far this technology has come.
“The gains we’ve seen with deep learning for natural language understanding have not been as astounding as they were for speech recognition and computer vision,” says Noah Smith, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington who specializes in natural language understanding. But the field has advanced, he adds, and now, researchers at places like Google are “trying to figure out how best to make use of them.”
If you’ve ever used Siri, you know that it doesn’t quite live up to those television ads where Apple’s assistant behaves like some sort of sentient being. Siri can understand simple commands like “text my mother” or “set my alarm for 6am.” But it can’t grasp English in all its complexity. Even if it does “understand” what you’re saying, it often can’t quite respond as it should, just because it’s not tied into the right app or service.
But the state-of-the-art is improving, thanks in large part to , networks of hardware and software that can learn particular tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data. Google and Facebook in particular already make wide use of deep neural nets to . And Microsoft uses them inside Skype. . And , to not just recognize words but grasp how they come together to provide meaning.
Deep neural nets power the Google assistant that powers both the Allo app and the forthcoming Google Home device. So if you speak to Home, neural nets will work to understand your words and reply in a way that makes sense. When you trade messages with friends over Allo, neural nets work to understand what your friends are saying so the app can suggest meaningful replies. Google is at the forefront of deep learning research, so there’s good reason to expect good things from Allo. But don’t expect perfection.
Though Fulay and Kay showed me some of what Allo could do during a recent visit to Google, they wouldn’t let me use it on my own. And the Google Home device was nowhere to be seen. But even if these tools do prove useful, they won’t deliver true conversations anytime soon. , as Google acknowledges. “We are very far from where we want to be,” says Google research director Fernando Pereira, .
But Google will keep pushing, as will its rivals. Today, Google may have a slight advantage when it comes to AI. But the big competitors aren’t far behind. And in some ways, they’re already ahead. The Amazon Echo beat Google to market. Skype is already widely used. Facebook Messenger alone is used by more than 900 million—WhatsApp by a . For Google, the trick lies in getting people to adopt Allo instead. Given Google’s spotty track record with both hardware and social networks, that will be quite a trick.
A First Step
Whether it succeeds or not, you can think of Allo and its search assistant as a first step towards a new kind of Google. The Google search assistant isn’t a single thing that sits inside a single app. It’s a vast swath of online infrastructure that underpins all sorts of tools. You may first encounter this assistant via Allo or Google Home. But Google says it could pop in all kinds of other places, from digital watches to cars.
Wherever it shows up, the idea is to provide a new and ostensibly more natural way of interacting with Google services, from Google search to Google Maps to Gmail to all the little apps on your Android phone, like the alarm to the phone dialer. And of course, the assistant will remember you and your online history as you move from device to device. (Don’t like the idea of Google tracking everything you do? There are small ways of limiting the data grab. Allo, for instance, offers an “incognito mode” that hides your chats behind end-to-end encryption so that even Google can’t read them).
Ultimately, the company is building a new set of “entry points” for the Google universe, says Scott Huffman, a vice president of engineering for Google Search. “We’re creating these entry points that are purely conversational,” Huffman says. “Over time, we want you to be able to ask for anything Google does.”
This will include not just Google software but Google hardware. Google Home will connect to things like the and . But the company will also extend beyond the Google universe. Allo, the company says, will run on iPhones as well as Androids, and through devices like the Chromecast, Google Home will work with other connected devices around the home, including TVs and stereos.
Google is still working through the particulars. It even indicates that the Google search assistant will one day be called something else (hence the lowercase “a” and the lowercase “s”). It’s unveiling this new vision at Google I/O today because that’s where the tech world is looking, and Google wants the world to appreciate the scope of its ambition. But it’s an ambition that makes sense.
More than ever, computers can understand what people say. Sometimes they can even respond. The smartest people at the smartest tech companies are applying their formidable brainpower to figuring out how to make these computers even smarter. Computers are a long way from the point where they can fool us into believing they aren’t computers at all. But it’s not unreasonable to think that they’ll eventually be able to hold up their end of a decent conversation.=========================================== Good Netiquette And A Green Internet To All!
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