May 24, 2024

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Google's newly formed Platforms and Devices team is all about artificial intelligence

Google's newly formed Platforms and Devices team is all about artificial intelligence

AI is taking over at Google, and the company is changing in big ways to try to make it happen faster. Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced major internal reorganizations on Thursday, including the creation of a new team called “Platforms and Devices” that will oversee all Google Pixel products, all Android, Chrome, ChromeOS, photos and more. The team will be led by Rick Osterloh, who was previously senior vice president of devices and services, where he oversaw all of Google's hardware efforts. Hiroshi Lockheimer, the longtime head of Android, Chrome, and ChromeOS, will take on other projects within Google and Alphabet.

This is a big change for Google, and it likely won't be the last. There's only one reason for all this, Osterloh says: artificial intelligence. “It's not a secret, is it?” He says. Combining the teams “helps us be able to do end-to-end innovation when it's necessary,” says Osterloh. He uses the example of the Pixel camera: “You had to have a deep knowledge of the hardware systems, from the sensors and the ISPs, to all the layers of the software stack. And at that time, all the early HDR and ML models that were doing camera processing… I think… Hardware/Software/AI integration really showed how AI could transform the entire user experience and that is even more true today.

Osterloh offers GPUs as another example: Google has poured resources into its Tensor products to keep up with Nvidia and others, and keeping hardware and software close together and aware of each other's work makes it easier to improve quickly. This is the kind of thing you can try to do with two teams, he says, but when it's one team with one leader and one goal, everything can go faster.

As we talk, Osterloh and Lockheimer are sitting in Lockheimer's office, talking to me via Google Meet. The two men have been friends and colleagues for decades, and they swear this change is not the result of an internal power struggle. (Even when I talk about it as a joke, they shoot me loudly and quickly.) They had been talking with Pichai about making this switch for more than two years, and now they finally felt it was the right time, Lockheimer says.

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Rick Osterloh has spent the past eight years building toward the future of AI at Google.
Photography by Dieter Bohn/The Verge

By bringing the teams together, Osterloh says, Google can now move much faster to integrate AI into all of its products. “We have a really fast way to get the latest research, the latest models, from DeepMind,” he says, noting also that Jay Yagnik, a longtime researcher and engineer on Google's AI team, is now coming to the Osterloh team, in part. To facilitate that interaction. One way to look at these changes is to simplify the path: There is now a team doing AI research and a team doing AI products. “Often, that means knowing how to build a new app based on the results of our latest model, and being able to move people quickly to do that,” Osterloh continues. Google, stumbled in many ways by the AI ​​revolution, knows it needs to do everything it can to move as quickly as possible.

For years, Google has said it thoughtfully separates its hardware efforts from its work with the broader Android ecosystem in order not to privilege its own devices or complicate relationships with companies like Samsung. Over the past couple of years, that relationship has changed: Google's hardware team has sought to build great devices and show the rest of the Android world where things can go.

One way to look at these changes is to simplify the path: There is now a team doing AI research and a team doing AI products

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Osterloh bristles when I suggest that this reorganization may signal the end of the firewall between Pixel and Android. “We have always maintained distinct teams between Android, our ecosystem partners, and our efforts in first-party devices,” he says. Sameer Samat, who has so far helped run Android under Lockheimer, will now be head of the Android ecosystem. If Samat has all those relationships in the ecosystem, it will all be fine, Lockheimer says. “I look forward to working with Rick to deliver groundbreaking Android experiences powered by Snapdragon not just in mobile but across Auto,

At the same time, it's clear that Google is pushing harder in its role as the tip of the spear for Android — especially with AI taking over the operating system. Google is already adding its Gemini model and chatbot everywhere you can think of, has been adding AI features to the Pixel camera over the past couple of years, and clearly has big plans for how AI will change the way you use your phone — which is why it matters which devices you use. It runs Android Auto, Wear OS, ChromeOS, and everything else.

Such changes appear to be part of an ongoing cycle at Google, a company that has a reputation for providing a sprawling, largely autonomous work environment — which is how you get Gmail but also thousands of messaging apps and unintegrated products — and then occasionally creating an attempt to unify around Greater initiatives and improved profits. “More wood behind fewer arrows,” co-founder Larry Page It was launched in 2011, when the big initiative of the day was Google Plus. Google certainly hopes that all its AI efforts will be better.

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In a way, this seems to be Osterloh's path since he first joined Google in 2016. At the time, Google Assistant was so angry, Pichai was telling anyone who would listen that he was betting the company on the idea of ​​”ambient adaptation.” “Computing” and a virtual assistant that will create a “personal Google” and help you accomplish more in your life. Osterloh's mission was to build custom homes for Google Assistant: phones, speakers, virtual reality headsets, laptops, smart watches, and more. Osterloh says it is Known since its early days That he was eventually working on AI and that these devices would be more important to Google adopting AI first than search first. “The technology has advanced so much that it's already ready.”

Going forward, Osterloh says his priorities haven't changed, though the rhythm of his daily meetings will certainly change. Overall, he says, the plan is just to make everything happen faster. To further update Google devices as AI models improve. Launch new products gracefully, rather than drowning everything in process and bureaucracy. “We can't drop a new SoC into existing products,” Osterloh says. “But we can design to last, and then update our software frequently.”

Google is in the middle of trying to completely reinvent itself around artificial intelligence, a technology that Pichai himself has said could be as important as fire. Every app Google owns and every platform it runs will be changed by Gemini. For this to succeed, Google itself – the company, its structure and its very culture – will change. It won't always be easy, but there's clearly no time to waste.