Google announced it’s finally unleashing its generative AI tools Tuesday, bringing a set of features to Gmail and Google Docs that will automatically create drafts based on simple prompts. Google will also add new AI capabilities to its business products, including Google Cloud and a new API for developers
Google says it’s rolling out a test of these features to a “limited set of trusted testers” in the coming weeks. When they’re released to the more than 3 billion users of Gmail and Google Docs, more people will be exposed to the latest generation of artificial intelligence technology than ever before.
In Gmail and Google Docs, you’ll be able to type in a few words about a topic, and the apps will automatically spit out a draft. The company posted a GIF using a job posting as an example. The user types “job post for a regional sales rep,” and in a second, Docs spits out a formatted page of text with filled out sections for a job description, responsibilities, and qualifications.
“We’re now at a pivotal moment in our AI journey,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, in a blog post. “Breakthroughs in generative AI are fundamentally changing how people interact with technology — and at Google, we’ve been responsibly developing large language models so we can safely bring them to our products. Today, we’re excited to share our early progress”
With Google’s upcoming business tools, companies are sure to create a flood of AI apps.
Google will test two new features in Google Cloud. First are more options for Vertex AI—a platform business use to deploy machine learning models—which will soon include support for models that generate images, text, and even audio and video (though the last two are coming “eventually,” Google didn’t include a timeline). Cloud users will also get a new AI app builder that can develop brand new generative AI apps in “in minutes or hours.”
Developers are getting a treat too. Similar to Cloud’s generative AI app-building options, developers will get access to new tools that make it easier more advanced users to test and create AI apps. The new PaLM API lets developers build on top of Google’s existing language models. PaLM includes a feature called MakerSuite that helps developers test their projects by editing AI prompts on the fly, experimenting with fake data, and tuning algorithmic models.
The company published an entirely separate blog post about PaLM API and MakerSuite, showing the company is keen on helping outside developers launch new AI projects.
The tech world spent the first months of 2023 engaged in a race to the bottom effort to pump out AI chatbots, none of which seemed ready to go. At first, Microsoft appeared to lead the pack with a supercharged version of Bing built in partnership with OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. Almost immediately, things went off the rails as the AI spouted off racial slurs, revealed company secrets, and encouraged one reporter to leave his wife.
Google kept its ongoing AI work under wraps for years, but the competitive pressure pushed the company to move its projects into the public eye. Google’s initial efforts were bugles as well. An ad for Google’s chatbot Bard showed it confidently misstating facts about the Webb space telescope.
Despite all the false starts, there’s no question AI is going to change the world, the only question is how much. Google CEO Sundar Pichai once offered a preview of his thinking. “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on,” Pichai said in 2018. “It is more profound than, I dunno, electricity or fire.”
The heads of giant tech companies often make big, meaningless statements, but Pichai isn’t one of them. Where Tim Cook might tell you a shiny new iPad screen is going to change the world, Google’s CEO tends to be pretty reserved.
Pichai has been less hyperbolic as his company’s AI work shifts in the direction of actual products, but as Google focuses on technology that its leader compares to the invention of fire, it’s worth pausing to consider what that actually means. That’s especially true when Google is in a better position than any other company to introduce AI on a massive scale.