Inbox by Gmail will read your emails and type out replies for you

by: Bogdan PetrovanNovember 3, 2015
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email smartphone typing Shutterstock

You may not know it yet, but Google’s artificial intelligence algorithms are already changing your life.

For now, AI is still a discreet, almost invisible presence running on Google’s vast neural networks, helping with things like returning the best answers to your confusing questions, finding that funny picture you took at the beach that time, or selecting just the right thumbnail from the thousands of frames of a YouTube video. But that’s only the beginning.

AI is soon going to power another feature: reading and understanding your emails and coming up with quick replies you may want to send. Think of it as a very basic personal assistant that can deal with the pesky task of replying to your petty missives.

machine_learning-video-thumbSee also: What is machine learning?6

Here’s how the Smart Reply feature, which will arrive to Inbox by Gmail soon, works. Two AIs work in tandem – one “reads” the email and turns it into an algorithm-friendly vector that represents the essence of the message. The other reads the vector and comes up with three distinct and grammatically sound replies.

The replies won’t different just in form – the AI makes sure that the meaning of the reply is distinct as well. That may sound trivial, but according to Google, making sure the AI wouldn’t just rephrase the same idea was a real challenge early on. Another challenge? Teaching the AI not to reply to everything with “I love you,” a phrase that it really favored in its early days.

google inbox smart reply (1)

Say you get an invitation to a dinner. The AI will parse it and suggest three likely responses: “I am busy, can’t make it” or “Sounds good, I’ll be there” or “I will try to make it.” Don’t worry, the app won’t send replies on its own. You will still have to pick up the preferred reply and send it, or use it as a starting point for a longer email.

google inbox smart reply (2)

At its core, this is a smarter “canned reply” type feature, that has been around for years. But the potential is great. The AI will probably one day be able to check your calendar or your hangouts messages before making a suggestion. You won’t need to check your agenda before replying, the app will do it for you.

machine learning ai artificial intelligenceSee also: How machine learning will revolutionize the mobile experience4

If you’re worried about privacy, Google says no human will ever see your messages. The AI algorithms learn by repeated trial and error, without human intervention.

Google says the feature works with longer emails, but we’ll have to see it in action to tell just how good it is.

Inbox by Gmail can be installed from the Play Store right here.

  • Brad Kalinoski

    Why is google hell bent on taking the thinking and decesion making out of our lives.

    • neonix

      Because automation is cool, fun, and intriguing. I wouldn’t use something like this because I’m too much of a control freak and I feel like if I didn’t type it out myself, I would be less likely to remember even saying it, but it’s still really cool to see and understand.

      If I had to speculate why this specifically, I would say it’s probably just an avenue for Google to test out and develop their AI and even get feedback on it to eventually have something that can be a truly useful. Think about it: This interprets emails today, but the same code may one day be used to interpret things you tell your Google Now assistant to do for you. It will probably also be used to better understand the content on web pages to deliver even better search results on Google. And I can even see a scenario where it may be used as a way to offer a feature in Adwords that automatically serves a grammatically correct and accurate ad without the advertising having to write it themselves.

      AI is the future and especially for a company like Google. So many of their products can and will benefit from this technology and these are just the early stages of it.

  • Cliff R

    I wish Android Authority had an AI to check over their articles :P

    “The replies won’t different just in form” should be differ.

    • Jay

      I was just about to reply with exactly the same thing haha

  • besmircher

    Can’t wait until Google are able to cook dinner, wipe my bum, take the dog for a walk and make love to my wife for me too.

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    • John Doe

      You can find someone in a google search to do that for you …but if your wife is that horrible that not even you want to make love to her, then you might need to pay that person .. lmao

      • besmircher

        You must be very self sufficient and independent. You’re even able to lmao your own jokes. Well done. Have a cookie.

        • John Doe

          No, I have been married! Its hell, but now I am single and happily banging the cookies out of my GF .. lol
          and thanks, I love cookies ..

  • Marty

    I hate that Inbox is redundant. I can’t use Inbox for all my email accounts and can’t delete my Gmail account in Gmail. I need to have both Inbox and Gmail active to receive all of my email and use Inbox.

  • Usman

    I would really appreciate this if Google becomes more clear about it’s privacy issues. In this post it says that no person will ever read it. This means a lot because a sword will always hang over their heads, for someone might sue them at any time, and they’ll have to clear it out.

    Google now also seemed useful but I disabled it later because it became more intrusive after some time. It said that I must enable web history, maps history etc. I’m not comfortable in enabling either of them, so I disabled Google now altogether.

    If it said that a computer will read my searches to analyze the data then I would have been comfortable but here it asked me to SAVE the history. I don’t want to save it because I don’t want my random searches to affect the genuine search results. E.g I often search definitions of random words, I don’t want them to affect the results when I search e.g an Android Rom for my phone. Another issue is that anyone gaining access to my password can simply READ it in simple English language.

    • John Doe

      If someone gains access to your phone’s password, then you will have a bigger issue than Google Now gives you..

      • You’re right, but i had something else in my mind. I usually keep my accounts logged in on my phone and i save passwords on the computer. Sometimes I even left them logged in because it’s a family’s pc. So my family and anyone(e.g friends) using the computer or mobile can have access to it. They will not cause hurt to me having access to my account, but all search history etc will be open to them. It’s more of a privacy issue than security issue

        • John Doe

          You do know that you can clear your browsing history each time you exit a browser correct? and that if you are a Gmail user and use Chrome that your browsing history is only viewable if and when you are logged in ..

          • YouTube’s history survives private browsing of Firefox. It’s not like I want to hide something, I just don’t want these terms/videos/locations to be listed right next to my name in a dedicated webpage. Now for example, I just searched something which I want to delete from my history, i would have to delete it from my browser AND from my Google account. Similarly, Google’s location history is a useful thing as it may provide updates ahead of a commute, i want this service for this purpose. But when i activate location history it also gives me an option to view the history.

          • John Doe

            Fair enough .. not sure why you leave your email logged in tho ..
            kids have a funny way of messing with things when you are not looking ..
            Gmail accounts are free last I looked, could you not just get an account for each of your family members?
            Anywho .. :)

          • hahahaaa everybody has their accounts.. :)
            It’s just that they don’t use the pc very often, so i leave mine logged in. And I’ll need to remember the first part of your comment when i’ll have kids LOL

  • Usman

    Also, Google should realize that the email is no longer the method of personal communication. The AI should eventually work for personal messages, followed by facebook/Twitter integration as well.

  • Fed up with psychopaths.

    “The replies won’t different just in form –” I hope the A.I has a deeper understanding of English than the writer of this article.