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Google I/O : AI Taking Center Stage to Make Android Devices More Powerful

by Ken Hyers | May 10, 2018

Google I/O, a three day annual event for developers, always brings new announcements for Android smartphones and the technology that powers them. The 2018 Google I/O event has been no different.

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Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Senior Analyst in our Emerging Device Technologies service notes that “At the 2018 Google I/O it was clear that Artificial Intelligence is becoming the heart of Android.” At Google I/O 2018, Google announced the new Android P version with high emphasis and utilization of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Everything from battery life to real virtual assistant called Duplex, is more or less powered by AI.

In the Android P update there are numerous improvements that will make future Android smartphones even better. Some of the most interesting changes include:

  • Multi camera support: now vendors and developers have an own API library that support multi-camera environments creating new opportunities for innovative features. The support includes simultaneous usage of front cameras as well as monochrome and RGB cameras.
  • Display cut-out support: Google has added support for the “notch” cut-out found in many leading flagship smartphones like the LG G7 ThinQ and Huawei’s P20 to the Android system, making it easier for vendors and developers to support new display features.
  • Neural Networks API helping to accelerate on-device machine learning on Android.
  • Android P adds native support for HDR VP9 p2 and HEIF
  • Adaptive Battery: a new machine learning powered subsystem co-developed with DeepMind that tracks users usage patterns and adapts the background processes respectively. Similar system has been in use in Huawei’s Mate series since the Mate 9. And now it will come available for all vendors through Android P.
  • Adaptive brightness: By using machine learning, Android P will have most intelligent auto brightness-mode there is. The device learns over time where and how one uses the device and can automatically adjust display brightness to appropriate level.

Google also announced new improvements to Google Maps that will blend AR content through the device camera and computer vision to improve navigation experience especially when walking.

Google Assistant is getting upgrades, chief among them a Natural conversational mode. In the future users will have more conversational user experience with Google Assistant. Users will be able to have a conversation that will approach the level of complexity of a (simple) one with a human. Google Assistant will also have a politeness feature which will encourage users to say “Please” and “Thank You” when making requests to Google Assistant; parents will be sure to applaud this feature.

In addition, Google Assistant will get six new voices added, including that of singer John Legend.
Google Assistant

Duplex is a concept futuristic version of the Google Assistant that will behave as a real person. With the usage of text to speech, AI, deep learning and more, Google Assistant will become a real assistant. With its conversational mode user can discuss with the assistant and it will act like a real person e.g. by ordering pizza or making a hotel reservation on behalf of the user.

 

Implications

There are numerous implications related to the changes that Google is preparing to implement across its services. The heavy reliance on Artificial Intelligence will make Google services much easier to use. It will also make it much easier to forget the fact that Google Assistant is a computer, something that is at best just a little bit creepy, and at worst something that could be abused.

Duplex, for instance, will allow users to make appointments such as restaurant reservations or doctor appointments. For the person that’s making the appointment, this is a clear boon. However, for the person that Google Assistant is making the appointment with, there is little to no indication that they’re talking to a machine – in fact Duplex appears to be designed to mimic a human so that they cannot be distinguished from a human. In most cases this will be a completely value-neutral distinction, but for the sake of humans, there should always be a way for them to be aware that they’re talking to a machine.

EDIT: With regard to Duplex, Google has since stated that "We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we'll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product." Kudos to Google for taking my (and possibly the scores of other analysts, tech journalists and others') comments on this issue to heart.

Even the politeness feature has drawbacks, in that it “normalizes” Google Assistant. Users, particularly younger users, will interact with and potentially think of Google Assistant as the would a normal human being. Although the dream of Sci-Fi writers and AI developers has long been to create a computer that could pass a Turing test, there’s still something to be said for making sure that people are aware that they are talking to a machine.

We recommend that now rather than later, after the technology becomes even more advanced, that Google Assistants and other AI services (like Alexa, Siri, etc.) embrace a notification protocol that explicitly makes clear to humans using the AI assistants that they are talking to a machine. When a person no longer has to say “OK Google” or “Hey Siri” and can naturally fall into conversation with AI, it will be good for them to be reminded now and then that their favorite conversational partner of the future is not a real person.

There are lots of changes coming to Android, and it is by nearly every measure getting better and more useful. However, an enduring problem that Google still needs to tackle is how to make vendors upgrade the Android OS found on phones. Currently, over 60% of all Android devices run on an OS version that was released in 2015 or before.

Our Wireless Smartphone Strategies service tracks OS share for smartphones. The latest report Global Smartphone OS Market Share by Region: Q1 2018 points out that Android OS accounted for well over 80% of the smartphones shipped in the first quarter of this year has an installed base of similar levels. Keeping the hundreds of millions of Android devices shipped every quarter, and the billions of Android devices that make up the global installed base, up to date is a problem that Google must tackle, if for no other reason, to bring its newest services to more and more people.

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