If there’s one job I’d like AI to take from me, it’s my daily email deleting ritual.
Every morning at 8:30AM, Google Calendar pings me with a reminder containing just one word: EMAILS. Thus, my formal workday begins as I speed-delete nearly every email that landed in my inbox overnight. They are largely useless and clog up the space between legitimate emails that I need to read and respond to.
Imagine for a minute, though, if you could just tell an AI assistant to show you your most important emails and delete all the rest. I asked Google Assistant on a Pixel 7 Pro to do this, and it just wordlessly escorted me to my inbox so I could deal with it myself. Thanks a bunch.
Google, like almost every other tech company in the world, is all about AI right now. The company showcased a lot of new ideas for generative AI at I/O earlier this year — tools to help you compose a new message in Gmail, write a job description in Google Docs, and build a template for your dog walking business in Google Sheets.
They’re hit or miss. Sometimes they’re useful: I asked it to expand a bullet point list of notes into some care instructions for my houseplants, and it added some helpful context about how often to water them. But often, the answers it gives you are obvious, like the weekly meal plan I asked Google Sheets to build for me. When prompted to come up with healthy meal and snack ideas, it had some good suggestions but left me to fend for myself in the snack column with “fruits, vegetables, nuts, or yogurt” in every cell.
Then there’s Bard — the AI chatbot that Google seemingly rushed out the door to compete with Bing earlier this year. It wasn’t very impressive in its early state, though it’s gotten more useful throughout the year. With a recent update, you can give Bard access to your Gmail and Google Docs and ask it questions about them. It’s actually pretty useful. I asked it to find any important emails in my personal Gmail, and it returned one about fresh hop week at a local taproom. You know me too well, Google.
We’re now in the thick of Techtember, and Google’s fall hardware event is fast approaching. We’ll see the Pixel 8 (that’s no surprise — Google already told us in like 20 different ways), and what I’m most interested to see is how it starts bringing together the company’s various ideas about AI and its usefulness in our daily lives.
Right now, Apple is allergic to saying AI, and Microsoft has some computers to sell you but nothing shaped like a phone. If AI is truly going to take the pain out of our daily chores like every tech company wants us to believe, then the Pixel ought to be the device that shows us how that works. I’m not all that interested in having generative AI write emails for me regularly when I’m sitting at my computer, but I can think of a bunch of things I’d like an AI assistant to be able to do for me on my phone.
For all its strengths, Google’s current Assistant is still mostly a tiny repeating machine
Giving me a rundown of those important emails and interpreting them into reminders or to-do list items would be a good one, for a start. I’d listen to Google Bard Assistant do that while I make my morning coffee. Maybe if I asked it to find a good time to go for a run, it could cross-reference my calendar and the hourly precipitation forecast, make a suggestion, and remind me 10 minutes before it’s time to head out the door. For all its strengths, Google’s current Assistant is still mostly a tiny repeating machine. It can tell me when my next meeting is or the likelihood of rain today, but it can’t put these two concepts together and make a suggestion.
Realistically, these kinds of features are still a ways off. One of the major barriers to letting AI run wild on your phone is processing power. AI needs a lot of it, and Google — like other companies — offloads the heavy lifting to the cloud when you ask Bard to summarize a document or write up a meal plan. Consequently, it takes a while — much longer than most of us would tolerate from an on-device assistant.
Google’s custom Tensor chips are supposedly designed with the goal of doing more of this processing locally, but is its third-generation chipset up to the task? Given how common overheating complaints are about Pixel 7 phones, it seems unlikely that Tensor G3 will suddenly be ready to run a lot more complicated processes on-device. Still, even with Tensor’s current limitations, the Pixel 8 should offer us a glimpse of what AI can actually do for us.
Realistically, a full Bard-on-your-phone assistant is probably still cooking. Google has also taken a cautious approach to implementing generative AI, for better or worse, and the features announced at I/O are largely in beta. There was a report earlier this year that Google was shaking up the Assistant team and aiming to make the product more Bard-like, and my guess is that we’ll see plenty of flavors of this future in next week’s announcement.