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

AI is soon going to power another feature of Inbox: reading and understanding your emails and coming up with quick replies you may want to send.

Published onNovember 3, 2015

email smartphone typing

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.

What is machine learning?

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.

How machine learning will revolutionize the mobile experience

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.

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