On Wednesday, Google hosted its annual developer conference. The event was a marked departure from the usual multi-day affairs of the past, condensed this year into a single jam-packed day of announcements and showcases. A notable absence in 2020, the conference returned with a reduced staff roster, but with no shortage of new developments.
Google's event set the stage for Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai's. From the Shoreline Amphitheater in Silicon Valley, Pichai introduced the company's ambitious vision of reimagining its core products, such as search, using generative AI. This statement formed the backbone of the day's presentations and product unveilings.
In the realm of artificial intelligence, Google introduced its second-generation Pathways Language Model (PaLM 2). This large language model represents an evolution from the previous iteration, powering numerous Google products. The company has been developing AI systems for many years, with the transformer architecture sitting at the heart of modern AI systems, such as chatbots.
Google's Catch-up in AI
This introduction comes at a time when Google is perceived as playing catch-up to rivals like OpenAI, whose GPT-3, ChatGPT, GPT-4, and DALL-E models have made significant waves in the AI field. Google's response is PaLM 2, capable of handling writing, coding, and calculations across more than 100 languages, scientific data sets, and code. PaLM 2 is available in four sizes: Gecko, Otter, Bison, and Unicorn. In addition, there are specialized versions for medical and security applications, known as Med-PaLM 2 and sec-PaLM.
Notably, Google is integrating PaLM 2 into 25 products and features, with several of these available for early testing via Search Labs. One such product is Bard, an AI chatbot that now runs on PaLM 2. This chatbot is designed to assist developers with coding in 20 programming languages and will soon be able to cite the source of its suggestions. Google also plans to integrate Bard with various Google apps and third-party services, including Adobe Firefly and Instacart.
Integrating Generative AI Into Google Search
Generative AI is being integrated into the Google Search interface as well. It aims to handle multiple queries simultaneously, providing a single, AI-generated recommended answer. Google is also planning to add features to its image search system to help users understand the origin of images, when they were first indexed, and where else they might be found. This feature will be particularly useful in distinguishing between genuine photos and AI-generated or manipulated ones.
Google is developing Duet AI for Workspace, a suite of PaLM-powered AI capabilities set to launch later this year. This suite includes features like AI-generated slide images in Google Slides, organizing rows and columns on demand in Google Sheets, unique backgrounds in Google Meet, and AI writing assistance in Google Docs. Google Cloud customers will gain access to Duet AI for Google Cloud, including features like code assistance, chat assistance, and Duet AI for AppSheet.
New Hardware Announcements
Turning towards hardware, Google showcased the 6.1-inch Pixel 7a smartphone, equipped with a larger camera sensor and an AI computation chip, the Tensor G2. The phone also includes an AI-powered Call Assist feature, with functions like Direct My Call, Call Screen, Hold for Me, Clear Calling (noise reduction), and Wait Times (hold time estimation).
The conference also saw the introduction of the long-anticipated Pixel Fold, a foldable smartphone that becomes a 7.6-inch tablet when unfolded. The device can perform unique features, like live translation between two languages on panels facing different directions. Pre-orders of the Pixel Fold will also come with a complimentary Pixel Watch.
The Pixel Fold was central to the demonstration of Google's Universal Translator project, a concept Google has been pushing for years, aiming to facilitate real-time conversation translation. Furthermore, the company teased the release of an 11-inch Pixel Tablet, capable of integrating into Google's home automation systems.
Generative AI Across Product Lineup
One of the key themes of the conference was the application of generative AI across Google's product lineup. For instance, Google announced the Magic Compose feature for Android, which uses generative AI to suggest responses to text messages. Gmail will introduce an alert system for instances when a user's email address shows up on the dark web, potentially indicating information theft or targeting by malicious actors. Moreover, Google Photos will soon receive a Magic Editor for making complex changes to images.
MusicLM, a feature that can transform text descriptions of music into audio, was another intriguing announcement. Google also announced that Android-powered cars would soon be able to run popular apps like YouTube, Waze, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex.
Google's Project Starline, a novel 3D video conferencing system, is still in the prototype stage, but it has been scaled down to a TV-sized device. Another new initiative is Project Tailwind, a notebook app that includes a chatbot capable of pulling information from Google Drive, organizing thoughts, and citing sources.
The announcements at the conference demonstrated Google's commitment to AI, with Sundar Pichai stating that “AI is not only a market-enabler, it is also a big platform shift”. This vision was clearly reflected in the variety of AI-powered products and features unveiled throughout the day, indicating Google's ongoing efforts to maintain its position as a leading player in the AI field. As the tech giant continues to innovate and expand its AI capabilities, consumers and developers alike can expect a range of new tools designed to streamline and enhance their digital experiences.
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