One of the first points Google boss Sundar Pichai made in his keynote address for I/O 2017 was ‘AI over mobile’ — quite a statement for a conference aimed at promoting app development for Android and, to a lesser extent, Chrome OS.
Nevertheless, the lion’s share of announcements bore out that theme, ranging from the ability to automatically remove obstructions from photos to automatically reading and translating text and suggesting actions corresponding to objects that appear in photos.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is most often associated lately with the virtual assistants that have been cropping up in various platforms in recent years: Cortana from Microsoft, Alexa from Amazon, Siri from Apple, Bixby from Samsung and (cough cough) Google Assistant from, erm, Google (seriously, why can’t they just come up with a personal name for it?).
However, as the major announcements from I/O 2017 demonstrate, the technology goes way beyond “OK Google.” It is artificial intelligence that makes it possible for Google Photos to recognize the difference between the subject in a photo and another object obstructing it. AI is what makes it possible for your phone to recognize text in a photo and translate it if necessary or enables automatic suggestions for who to share new photos with based on contextual awareness. AI even allows Google Lens to recognize which species of flower you just photographed.
Granted, there were plenty of announcements related to Android O as well (notice that Sundar Pichai didn’t say ‘AI instead of mobile’). With Android O, your phone will be able to share more details about how much battery power each app is using, your launcher will let you pull up notifications directly from a long-press of the corresponding app’s icon on the homescreen, and you can continue watching your favorite YourTechExplained YouTube videos while reading your email with the new picture-in-picture feature.
Also, Google Home is taking a quantum leap forward with new features such as hands-free calling and streaming music over Bluetooth while Daydream VR gets some major improvements (including standalone viewers so you no longer have to strap your phone to your head).
Nevertheless, AI was the main theme of I/O 2017 and even some of the Android O goodies are fueled by the technology (smart text selection in particular). Many of the improvements to Google Home are also fueled by AI. It has been argued that we’ve reached a sort of plateau when it comes to improvements to mobile platforms, and indeed Google isn’t the only company to shift its focus to artificial intelligence to continue pushing things forward.
I personally believe there is still much room to grow in designing a better, more functional operating system, but Google and the rest of the big corporations have made it clear that they see AI as the next golden goose. They’re racing each other to be the leader in what they think will be the biggest growth industry of the next decade. What’s great, though, is that AI is only going to continue helping to envovle the OS that powers our phones as time goes forward.