Even a company as powerful as Google, and even a technology with as much potential as AI, cannot control California’s increasingly bizarre climate.
So while CEO Sundar Pichai brought developers and media from around the world to an open-air stadium for a two-hour unveiling of Google’s new AI offerings, he can’t be blamed for the unusually cold haze of May that smothered Mountain View. Even though it left his audience so cold that this cry of distress was heard next in the bathroom line: “I can’t feel my hands anymore!”
But the Google IO keynote itself being a cold fish? A boring imitation of an overly long Apple event, despite major AI news on Gmail, Docs, and search fronts? We can definitely bring that accusation to the door of the Googleplex next door. This reveal, frankly, could have been a Gmail.
It shouldn’t be like this. Google had promised a showcase for all the creativity its AI service Bard can unleash. The pre-show on the rainbow-framed Shoreline Amphitheater stage featured AI-generated visualizations filled with creatures behind a DJ who had the crowd jumping before summoning a giant-lipped duck(opens in a new tab)like something out of a Disney fever dream, in person.
Here’s something Apple has never done, a warm-up act (literally warming us up, in this case). Here’s something Microsoft didn’t do when it launched ChatGPT-powered Bing: Not just showcasing AI, but making it look amusing.
And in fairness to Pichai, who took the stage after the duck promising to “make AI useful to everyone,” he made the right decision to open with Bard’s integration into Gmail. Normally, it would be hard to make a Gmail ad look sexy, but AI-written email replies (in draft form, ready for your edits) could be a killer app for Google.
I’m sure I’m not the only reluctant email user. Nor is the only person with ADHD who struggles with the stress of an empty response window. Indeed, AI-powered Gmail has such potential that I wish the CEO had lingered longer. Pichai barely had time to show an example, in which Bard responded to a canceled flight alert with a request for a refund – available in both plain and, depending on an on-screen option, flavors “worked out”.
What did “elaborate” mean, exactly? Were there any other intriguing examples of email responses, perhaps? We were left to find out for ourselves. Perhaps Google learned its lesson from the first Bard search event, where the AI got the answer wrong.
The problem is that this sort of thing is exactly why we users are skeptical of AI and its “hallucinations”. This is exactly why we need to go deep.
And Google rarely did. The word AI was slotted into every segment of the two-hour event, so much so that even coveted Pixel products seemed subordinate (the Pixel itself, once just a smartphone, had now retroactively “paved the way for hardware of AI for years”.”) The presentation of the Pixel tablet came out almost unscathed, until a mention of its “cutting edge AI” was sprinkled. I tried a drinking game “AI” using google cafe, and I was wired at the end.
Welcome to the Coachella Main Stage… Generative AI Wallpapers!
To be fair, it wasn’t all segments like the endless “Generative AI wallpaper” demo. There was also a presentation on Google’s vision of “bold and responsible AI”, much needed when your product can be misused. It’s nice to see that the company includes reverse image search and digital watermarking of its own AI images. It’s a much-needed offering to stem the wave of misinformation — like the “fake moon landing” used in the segment.
Now, if only Bard wrote just for you to your conspiracy-loving uncle on Facebook, we’d be set.
But what tied these announcements together, other than a desperate desire to improve Google’s standing on Wall Street with multiple mentions of the latest tech buzzword? If you squinted through the giddy demos of Google Workspace with Bard integration, you could pretty much see the promising new world that Google was promising – a utopian future where we don’t need to write our own first drafts. , or summarize our own documents, or create our own spreadsheets. A fairly competent digital assistant can do this for us. (Perhaps AI would be less scary if it meant “Artificial Intern”.)
But the vision was barely bound. Google seemed to take a lot of inspiration from Apple’s keynotes – but the Tim Cook kind, not the Steve Jobs original. Jobs was so good at lulling us into his delightful concept of what technology could do, he was said to have a “reality warping field.” Perhaps Pichai could ask Bard to write his next speech in the style of Jobs. It would certainly be easier than predicting the weather.