Google has too many AI writing assistance tools for its own good

Companies around the world are rushing to explore the possibilities of AI, working hard to bring about the promised paradigm shift we’ve all heard so much hyped about. Google was no exception, and the company has amassed AI/ML engineers like Pokémon, hiring talent with little intention of delivering products that can compete with its core search engine model.

OpenAI GPT Chat has taken the industry by storm and launched a truly user-friendly generative AI chatbot to the masses. That left Google with little choice but to take AI seriously at its I/O developer conference keynote earlier this year, even daring to upstage the launch of three new hardware products.

This newfound vigor in developing features with rich functionality and ease of use is evident in Apprentice Bard, Google’s new generative AI chatbot. Bard appears to be the culmination of the company’s attempts to reclaim the AI ​​mindshare lost during the rapid rise of ChatGPT.

Innovation in the wake of ChatGPT

Google’s zealous efforts are also making a difference in how we compose messages in apps like Messages and Gmail, a space where rudimentary AI tools like Smart Compose and Smart Reply could be outclassed by the AI-powered generative Magic Compose. artificial.

Those previous Smart Utilities have been equally convenient to use on Workspace apps for the web, as have their Android equivalents, and Google may see them as mature technologies, while Magic Compose is still in development. However, “obsolete” would be a more accurate descriptor. The way I see it, you don’t need three separate tools for the simple task of making composing messages easier.

While Magic Compose is in beta testing right now, it appears poised to eclipse both Smart Compose and Smart Reply effortlessly, leaving us with tools that overlap in terms of functionality. It could be argued that they serve three distinct roles and must exist at the same time – that may be true for the time being – but after studying Magic Compose’s capabilities for a while, I’m almost convinced otherwise.

Clever answer: Not so smart anymore

Smart Reply has been around since the mid-2010s, when Google shared research on developing an ML system that delivers short, contextually appropriate responses to messages using natural language processing (NLP) intelligence. The idea is to help you save time spent replying to messages, by replacing the few seconds of typing a common reply with a simple one-tap solution.

Smart Reply became a Gmail feature in 2017 and has since permeated Google Messages, Android Auto, Workspace utilities like the comments section in Docs, and even third-party apps like WhatsApp. It is also available in many languages. You can easily choose one of its pre-composed responses from your car’s notification shade or infotainment screen while driving, but you’re limited by the options presented. At least while in the car, I often find myself using the Custom Response option and relying on the Assistant to send something that wasn’t suggested by the ML model.


Smart reply in Google Chat

Sometimes, Smart Reply suggests emojis as suitable responses, when your choice of the correct emoji for the situation might be different. There is also concern in some cases that a short response could be mistaken for abrupt behavior. Even selecting a smart answer and editing it to your preferences doesn’t save you much time.

Perhaps after analyzing the telemetry data of countless users who changed the phrases suggested by the artificial intelligence, Google could have realized that people need assistance during processing its own messages as well as an assortment of ready-to-send options, which may explain its other (apparently redundant) AI autocomplete tool.

Smart Compose: Autocomplete on the off chance that it’s accurate

Sending, Smart Compose: AI employed to speed up message composition. Google describes it as autocomplete for hello, goodbye, and everything in between that you type in a predictable way. You can accept suggestions with a single tap, or just keep typing if you have something different in mind. The goal is to reduce the work and time spent writing the same sentences over and over again.

Smart Compose launched as a Gmail-exclusive feature on Pixel 3 in 2018. The following year, it came to everyone on Gmail, just as the earlier Smart Reply was also going mainstream. Google has continued to inject this AI into other apps, with Google Chat for the web picking it up just earlier this month. Smart Compose also coexists with Smart Reply on Google Docs, saving you time creating documents instead of just helping you with replying to comments.


Smart Dialing in Google Chat

Just like with partners, it’s nice to have someone complete your sentences, but these relationships have their fair share of problems, too. You’re doing most of the typing here anyway, and an autocomplete only saves you a few seconds. You have the benefit of grammatically correct and contextual suggestions that can even mimic your writing style, but you still have to type everything that isn’t in the only suggestion served to you. The AI ​​works well at what it does, but you’re still limited to one autocomplete suggestion at a time.

This essentially explains why Google felt the need to throw another AI autocomplete tool into the mix, and definitely not why ChatGPT made all of its existing AI efforts look like high school science projects.

Magic Compose and Help me write: Generative magic at work

Going back to where it all began, the keynote speech at Google I/O earlier this year introduced us to a new message composition tool called Help me write: Generate an entire email from a prompt of a single line. CEO Sundar Pichai also showed how to rewrite entire text on a whim, with one simple command.

The experience of using Help Me Type feels like hiring Bard as a self-employed typist. Meanwhile, Magic Compose is still in beta, but has already penetrated Google Messages. Like Smart Reply, the feature suggests multiple suitable replies to incoming messages. But, here, you can also choose your style of response, whether it’s an emoji-laden contemporary text or a long-winded Shakespearean response.

These are by far some of the best drafting aids Google’s AI research has ever created. They have all the goodies of the old technology, like the convenience of a pre-written response and minimal effort expended when creating and editing your own message. Magic Compose also eliminates sticking to strictly yes or no responses to most messages and extremely short messages that recipients might find short. Magic Compose is almost like the perfect marriage between Smart Reply and Smart Compose.

However, some limitations have persisted, despite Google’s slow and careful approach to bringing true generative AI into its core products. It may be too early to wonder about these issues because both Magic Compose and Help me write are still in beta, but it would be great if we could use Magic Compose’s favorite replies right from the notification shade, eventually replacing Smart Reply.

It would also be surprising to see Google merge Assistant with Magic Compose when it brings this AI feature to Android Auto and popular third-party messaging apps. Another avenue for expansion would be Help me write by coming to all the apps we write in, including Messages, Docs, and third-party apps like Evernote

The road ahead

Since Magic Compose is the manifestation of generative AI in its purest form, I hope it will be retrained or updated regularly, furthering its capabilities in the future. However, even if we put Help Me Type aside for a moment, Google currently maintains three different writing assistants with overlapping feature sets. This is a waste considering how much work Magic Compose would require to replace only Smart Compose and Smart Reply. I really hope this is the game plan here.

Google’s use of the “Magic” branding for new conversational AI writing assistants and the shared “Smart” branding for older ones is another interesting detail. It’s easier to purge unobtrusive projects that don’t share the same brand, something Google seems to like a lot. For now, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the Magic Compose and Help me write betas as testing expands before an inevitable public launch.

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