As major tech events go, Google I/O lacks the glamour of an iPhone launch, the tension and drama of a Facebook keynote, or the cringe-inducing, over-the-top spectacle of a Samsung unveiling. The company’s announcements tend to be wonky, incremental, and heavily focused on artificial intelligence, especially its confusing inner workings.
Yet I find Google’s annual developer conference the most consistently intriguing of the four, because the company isn’t just releasing nifty gadgets: It’s pushing the boundaries of what can be automated, down to the most quotidian tasks in our everyday lives. In the process, Google is giving us glimpses of a future that often looks more like sci-fi than we’re really prepared to grapple with — even as it tries to reassure us with privacy and security measures that often feel like attempts to paper over the can of worms it just opened.
Here are the announcements that stood out during Google’s opening keynote, held at Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre on Tuesday, May 7. I’ve ranked them, not necessarily by their traditional news value, but according to my own opinion as to how interesting they are — that is, their potential to shake up the existing relationships between humans and machines.
1. A souped-up Google Assistant
It may lack the name recognition of Siri or Alexa, partly because it lacks a catchy name. But Google’s Assistant is one of the world’s most widely used consumer A.I. products, powering more than 1 billion devices around the world via Android phones, tablets, smart speakers, and smart displays. In many ways, it was already the most advanced — and now Google says it has found a way to make it 10 times faster, by pulling a lot of the complex computing out of the cloud and onto each user’s device.
Practically speaking, that means you can operate your Android phone faster by voice than you could by touch. In an onstage demo, a Google rep fired off a string of voice commands that required Google Assistant…