November 30, 2023

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The launch of the Google Pixel 8 was a showcase for artificial intelligence

The launch of the Google Pixel 8 was a showcase for artificial intelligence

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Google’s latest products are full of artificial intelligence. there Magic editor, an image editing tool powered by generative AI; there Reveal the conversationThe voice transparency feature supported by artificial intelligence; There it got better Heart rate algorithmswhich is yes also Powered by artificial intelligence.

Seven years of OS updates? Seems like a great way to Get more AI features from Google. New photography features? All artificial intelligence. Stress handler? Designed for AI and baby! “As always, our focus is on making AI more useful for everyone, in a bold and responsible way,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s head of hardware, said in an introduction that included, by my count, the word “AI” more than a dozen times. . Over the course of the launch hour, Google presenters mentioned AI more than 50 times.

Google presenters said the phrase “AI” more than fifty times during the hour-long event

As early as 2019, AI was already being used as a buzzword to sell everything from toothbrushes to televisions. But recent offerings by Google have seen the company… Strongly Positioning itself as a leader in the field of artificial intelligence. Critics noted that it was surprised by the overnight success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and the speed with which rival Microsoft incorporated the new technology into its products. But in its eagerness to respond, Google risks emphasizing AI in everything at the expense of useful features its customers will actually use.

Osterloh inadvertently made that clear when he referenced the original Pixel’s 2016 launch on stage, and said how focused Google was on AI even at the time. “Looking around the room here, I see a few people who attended the first Pixel launch seven years ago,” Osterloh said, noting that at the time, “I made it clear that the Pixel is designed to bring hardware and software together, with AI at the center to deliver simple experiences.” And fast and smart.

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Except when I went back to watch Google’s 20-minute presentation about the original Pixel phone, I haven’t found anyone saying the phrase “artificial intelligence” on stage. There was a lengthy demo of Google Assistant voice control, a discussion of computational photography, and even a proud boast that the phone was “designed for mobile virtual reality,” but there seemed to be no explicit mention of AI.

I’m not saying that Osterloh was lying when he said the original Google Pixel was powered by AI, but the comparison shows how different Google is talking about its products and services in 2023 versus 2016. There are moments in the original Pixel launch where Google today would surely say With the word “AI,” as when product manager Brian Rakowski referred to the camera’s “incredible on-device software algorithms.” But Google’s 2016 presentation was less concerned about changing perception about the company’s technical prowess and more concerned with what those features mean for potential buyers.

The difference is even more noticeable when compared to Apple’s presentations, where the company appears to be actively avoiding saying the two magic letters. As my colleague James Vincent pointed out earlier this year, Apple still refers to the technology that many other companies call artificial intelligence, but it does so more sparingly and uses the “sober and technically precise” phrase “machine learning”:

Prefer to focus on machine learning functionality, highlighting the benefits it offers users like a company that satisfies customers. As Tim Cook said in an interview with Good Morning America today, “We’re incorporating it into our products [but] People don’t necessarily think of it as artificial intelligence.

In contrast, Google does not suffer from such concerns.

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For the most part, I don’t think this is a big problem. Who cares how the Pixel Watch 2’s heart rate algorithm works as long as it’s accurate? Ultimately, the Pixel 8’s photography results should speak for themselves, no matter how much “AI” is involved along the way.

But there were also moments during this week’s presentation when I found myself asking whether we… truly It needed some of the AI-powered features that Google offered. During a segment about Google’s new AI-powered virtual assistant, Google’s Sissie Hsiao demonstrated how Assistant with Bard can automatically generate a social media post to appear alongside a photo of Baxter the dog.

“Baxter, King of the Hills!”
Image: Google

“Baxter, King of the Hills!” An assistant was drafted with cool in response. “Look who’s on top of the world! #doglover #majestic #hikingdog.”

As a technical demonstration of generative AI, this makes sense. AI is becoming increasingly good at recognizing and describing images, and one of the greatest strengths of generative AI is writing in a certain style (particularly a style full of clichés like racy captions for social media photos).

But ignore the AI ​​part and think of this as just a smartphone feature, and I think it’s completely confusing. How on Land Have we reached a point where it makes sense for a smartphone to shape our personal social media posts for us? what is the point? If you’re asking a machine to write a caption for a photo, why post the caption in the first place? What are we doing here?

I have a theory, which is that – in the absence of a killer application for generative AI – Google is throwing features at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s as if the search giant has a hammer labeled “generative AI,” and its search for nails is taking the company to strange places. And that’s before we get into the messy implications of building generative AI directly into Google Images.

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All of this begs the question: Who is Google trying to impress with all this talk about AI? Obviously, to some extent, having an “AI smartphone” is something that attracts potential customers. ChatGPT wasn’t an overnight success for nothing, and there’s clearly some desire to see what the AI ​​buzz is about.

But I don’t think that’s the whole story, not when you say the phrase “artificial intelligence” more than once every minute and 15 seconds, on average, during a smartphone launch, and not when one of your biggest competitors (Apple) avoids saying it altogether.

If anything, it seems to reflect concern at Google to avoid being seen as being left behind in the maelstrom of AI hype. When Microsoft announced it was integrating generative AI into its search engine, Bing, CEO Satya Nadella described it as a direct hit at Google. “I hope that, thanks to our innovation, they will definitely want to go out and show their ability to dance,” Nadella said. “And I want people to know that we made them dance.” Since then, Google has enthusiastically clicked through each of its presentations.

None of this is a problem for Pixel owners or potential buyers of Google devices. But while Google can call itself an AI company all it wants, people ultimately just want phones packed with useful features. At some point, there may be a danger of putting the AI ​​technology cart before the discerning horse.