The Curious Case of the Missing Google Assistant


Google executives hosted the corporate’s I/O developer conference this week, an annual ritual that has lately centered on synthetic intelligence. With OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot seen as challenging 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 speeding up deployment of the technology

Google’s personal chatty giant language mannequin, Bard, was the headliner, and it’s now publicly obtainable in 180 international locations. Following alongside behind got here a few dozen generative AI product features 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 mentioned 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 operating system.

For the higher a part of the previous decade, Google Assistant was a star of I/O, beginning with the introduction of the Home smart speaker in 2016. Later editions of the occasion noticed the launch of a program that allow exterior builders faucet into voice instructions referred to as actions. Then there have been Google Assistant-powered merchandise like the Nest Hub Max good show, launched in 2019, and a startling demo of a function referred to as Duplex that makes phone calls to local businesses on a consumer’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 little thing modified. The bot was fluent (if flawed) and shortly drew tens of millions of customers, prompting internal strife at Google in regards to the pace of its giant language mannequin deployment. Google released 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 omitted of its generative AI push?

One attainable 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 mentioned that Google Assistant will energy some unique options in Google’s new foldable smartphone, reminiscent of responding to the command “Hey Google, take a selfie.” It should even be obtainable within the new Pixel Pill.

Google Assistant has 700 million month-to-month customers at the moment, Hutchison says, whereas Bard is “an early experiment.” Experiments and consumer testing to tell the way to apply Bard throughout Google merchandise are ongoing.

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