Google hits hard on privacy, artificial intelligence at I/O 2018

Google took the wraps off the latest version of several of its products at its I/O developer conference, but themes such as artificial intelligence and privacy received huge chunks of time as CEO Sundar Pichai said AI in particular can be a force for good, while recognizing it has nefarious use cases if it's not contained.

"It's clear technology can be a positive force," Pichai told the 7,000-plus attendees on Tuesday. "But it's equally clear we can't just be wide-eyed about the changes technology creates."

Pichai added that Google needs to navigate the path ahead "carefully and deliberately," while adding that AI is going to "impact many, many fields," and the company has a responsibility to get it right.

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Pichai showed off several examples of where artificial intelligence can help all different walks of life, including it being implemented into Google's algorithmic keyboard, Gboard. It now supports Morse code and has the ability to come up with predictions and text outs for those who use Morse code to communicate and is available in beta later today.

He also announced a new Smart Compose feature for Gmail (coming later this month), which takes care of things like addresses and suggested phrases.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam - RC1B33817D70

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam - RC1B33817D70 (STEPHEN LAM REUTERS)

Google Photos, which sees more than 5 billion photos viewed everyday, is also getting enhanced AI-centric features, including the ability to understand who is in the picture and share it with that person. It can also help fix brightness or recognize a document and turn it into a PDF, something that is already available on the iPhone.

Pichai also announced that Google's new machine learning chips and Google's voice assistant, known as Google Assistant, now has the ability to have six natural-sounding voices. Additionally, musician John Legend will be an available as a Google Assistant voice later this year, Pichai said.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam  NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES - RC1744358DD0

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES - RC1744358DD0 (STEPHEN LAM REUTERS)

Google Assistant received additional updates, such as having children say "pretty please" to it (a feature Amazon recently added to Alexa), as well as having a more natural conversation with it, including removing the "Hey Google" prompt during a conversation. It also can make phone calls on your behalf to businesses, with Pichai showing off the example of making a hair cut appointment via Google Assistant.

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Google is the fourth tech giant to hold its developer conference in recent weeks. Earlier this week, Microsoft held its Build developer conference, following conferences from Facebook and Amazon.

Apple, which also competes with the aforementioned tech giants, is slated to hold its developer conference next month.

Product updates

Google refreshed several of its products at I/O, including its Google News service, which now incorporates AI, as well as some new hardware.

Google News is getting new enhanced features, utilizing artificial intelligence to give readers big headlines, the top 5 stories right at the top of the app, local news, videos from YouTube and more.

It will have four tabs: For you, Headlines, Favorites and Newsstand, a new, easier way to subscribe to certain publications from around the world. The new Google News is available on iOS, Android and the web in 127 countries starting later today, the company said.

Android P, Google's latest mobile operating system, is using artificial intelligence to help boost battery life, expending it on "apps you care about," Google's Dave Burke said during the presentation. It can also automatically adjust screen brightness by learning a person's preferences.

Android P, in beta on certain devices immediately, will also let users do tasks from their apps using Actions in the search bar, without actually going into the app itself, building on a theme Google called "digital-well being," making users lives slightly easier.

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The new OS will also let you control how much time you spend on a certain app and updates to its Do Not Disturb feature, both extensions of the "digital well-being" theme.

First announced at CES, Google's Lillian Rincon showed off smart displays from Lenovo, JBL and LG, which integrate Google Assistant, Maps and YouTube, among other features, similar to Amazon's Echo Show smart device. The products will be available for purchase in July, Rincon said, who did not give an MSRP.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia