Google Kicks Off 2018 I/O Conference with Groundbreaking AI Tech

Google, a division of Alphabet, kicked off its 2018 I/O conference this week with a number of newsworthy artificial intelligence (AI)-related technology announcements.

First up, it revealed a new AI virtual assistant that speaks with a human-like cadence (including realistic"ums" and "uhs"), and appears to understand somewhat nuanced human replies: While not live displays, CEO Sundar Pichai showed off Google Duplex via recorded phone calls where the virtual assistant booked a a haircut and a restaurant reservation, with the people on the receiving ends of those calls apparently unaware they were coming from an AI-enabled system. Neither did the audience.

"We've been working on this technology for many years," Pichai told a stunned crowd packed into the Shoreline Amphitheater, around the corner from the Googleplex. "We're still developing this technology, and we want to work hard to get this technology and the expectations right."

According to Pichai, Google will be rolling out Duplex as an experimental feature in the coming weeks, with the system becoming available in 30 languages by the end of the year.

Pichai introduced a slew of other new AI-powered mobile capabilities for its products during his keynote, including: Gmail's upcoming ability to help compose e-mails, a new Google Photos feature called Suggested Actions that can spot friends in photos and offer to share them, and a "politeness feature" aimed at children that responds in kind when they say "please."

To emphasize its commitment to AI, a day before the start of the conference, Google announced that it had rebranded its Google Research group to Google AI. Much of the work of that group was already AI-focused, but the new name "better reflects" a commitment to AI, machine learning, and deep learning technologies, the company said. Google AI now "encompasses all the state-of-the-art research happening across Google," the company stated.

This year's I/O, held in Mountain View, Calif., drew an estimated 7,000 attendees.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at