Artificial intelligence sounds cool in theory, and as Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the Google I/O event on Wednesday, the company wants to “help you get things done” with AI.
But one example that Google used to showcase its AI at Google I/O on Wednesday was anything but exciting.
Using its new messaging app called Allo, Google showed how easy it is to find restaurants and make reservations, or find a movie and buy tickets.
Allo is designed so you can do those things by having a conversational texting session, as you would with a friend, with a bot called @google that uses the company’s new AI platform called Google Assistant.
There were some other examples, like recognising the context of messages and pictures you send between your friends and coming up appropriate short replies so you don’t have to come up with the response yourself.
Identifying photos people text me, suggesting replies to messages, and booking me a dinner table isn’t a huge step forward in the world of bots. Facebook’s budding ecosystem of third-party bots can do similar things, but it’s clear it’s early days and can’t do those things very well.
The truth is this: Texting back and forth with a bot isn’t any easier or more useful than using an app or website the old-fashioned way, even if you’re chatting with Google-powered AI.
It also highlights a big challenge for Allo, which inexplicably competes with Google’s main messaging app, Hangouts. (Or Gchat as you probably call it.) The addition of a Google bot isn’t going to be enough to convince hundreds of millions of people to suddenly abandon popular messaging apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp.
I sound like a naysayer, but I’m comparing Google’s AI initiative with that of an app called WeChat that’s hugely popular in China that seems to be much more useful.
If Google wanted to make its messaging app more enticing, it should look to the Chinese service WeChat, which is basically a Swiss Army knife for everything in your digital life. Not only does WeChat let you send messages, you can use it to schedule a doctor’s appointment, pay bills, keep up with the news, call a cab, and just about anything else you can imagine.
These are the things we need to get done, and that’s an app I would certainly use if it was available in the US.
Is Google that far behind than its Chinese counterparts? WeChat’s list of abilities is much more impressive than the two main examples Google used on Wednesday. I have no idea if we’ll be able to do these sorts of things in Allo, but as of now, all I know is that it will book me a table for dinner.
Pichai did say that Google’s foray into AI is young and that it has a long way to go. If any company can add useful features like WeChat’s to an AI bot it’s Google.