Google I/O came back after a break last year and with a bang! It was the first tech event of the year 2021 that took place live. While the developers were not invited to Google’s Mountain View campus, some of the staff were, and the Keynote presentation was held on a lawn on a beautiful sunny morning.
The developer conference is generally used to show off the upcoming Android update, and give updates on other things the company is doing regarding Google Assitant, their ongoing research into Artificial Intelligence, etc.
While this I/O was no different, it did lean more towards Google’s work in AI, across various verticals.
It showed off a project called LaMDA, which stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications. Think of it as taking your conversations with Google Assistant, the Smart Reply on your Android phone and Smart Compose in Gmail and Docs — but leveled up.
LaMDA is still in a very initial phase and will require a lot of work but it could one day help you converse with the internet seamlessly to get answers to your questions much beyond the basic ones you get right now, though voice.
Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, maybe as great, even noble, but it might not be without problems if it tries to give the information it deems right. AI training can be tricky and is full of human bias.
It would do us well to remember that science fiction looks to technology as a savior but often enough the pursuit of that technology also gives rise to the mad scientist.
The pursuit of technology and science must be careful, and Google knows that.
Sameer Samat took the stage to talk about the new changes coming to the Android Camera where Google is training the camera to accurately represent people of color by retraining its auto white balance and exposure algorithms. It will do a better job of deal with a person’s curly or wavy hair, something it used to simply ignore in portrait selfies.
Google and its parent company, Alphabet have an Indian CEO. Sameer Samat, Vice President Product Management, is as Indian a name as one can have. There are plenty of other high-ranking positions in Google that have Indian names attached to them. So it is an understatement to say that it took them a while to get here, to have their software understand that people of color exist, and to represent them accurately.
Google is a leading name in Artificial Intelligence. And I am glad they are finally seeing the error in their ways – that is after all the first step to rectifying them.
Another useful use of AI that Google talked about is a new tool to detect skin conditions.
We have all googled any off symptom and told ourselves a worse malady is upon us. So Google took that and turned it into a tool. You can take 3 pictures of the affected area – like a rash – answer a few questions about symptoms and skin type and it will give you a list of possible issues you might have. While it is not a medical device, it can be useful to rule out a common bruise at the very least.
Having access to a doctor is not as common as one might think and when it comes to a specialist like a dermatologist, it is even rarer. Such a tool in your phone can be life-changing.
On to lighter updates from the company:
- Android 12 has a whole new design – something much more customizable – and they are changing the name Material Design to Material You.
- Google Maps is making the Live View with AR feature better with more information about restaurants and businesses.
- Samsung and Google are partnering up to bring a better smartwatch. (I definitely want to comment on this, so perhaps that will be next week.)
- Google Workspace is getting ready for a much more collaborative experience.
Pushing the boundaries of science doesn’t stop, and it is only accelerating now.