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May 19, 2016

Google Makes Push Into Artificial Intelligence With New Offerings


Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai revealed new products and services that use smarter software to make decisions rather than follow instructions, part of a major push into artificial intelligence that he said would define the tech giant over the next decade.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., said it would soon start selling a device called Home that will answer users’ questions and complete tasks for them, like scheduling appointments, playing music and sending emails. The device resembles Inc.’s popular Echo device.

“We think of it as a conversational assistant,” Mr. Pichai told attendees at Google’s annual developers’ conference, held at an outdoor concert venue near its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. “We want users to have an ongoing dialogue with Google.”

Google also said it would launch a new messaging app, called Allo, that would incorporate some of the same underlying technology as Home to create smarter conversations. Google has lagged behind others in messaging, including rival Facebook Inc.’s two messaging apps, Messenger and WhatsApp.

The developers’ conference is also expected to include announcements about Google’s next moves in virtual reality and around its Android mobile-operating system.

Google has invested heavily in artificial intelligence in recent years to strengthen its existing products and spawn new ones.

Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest technologies in Silicon Valley, where executives and engineers say it can enable computers to make inferences and decisions, versus simply following instructions programmed into them.

Researchers increasingly use one branch of artificial intelligence, called machine learning, to enable computers to “teach” themselves new skills by reviewing huge data sets. The techniques are used to enable computers to recognize speech and images, as well as learn how to drive a car.

Google underscored the importance of artificial intelligence to its future in February when it named its AI chief John Giannandrea to run the company’s flagship product, search. Google also used artificial intelligence to create RankBrain, a system to handle complex search queries that is now one of the most important factors in how it ranks search results.

Google also used artificial intelligence to develop the software that defeated the world’s best player in the board game Go, years before experts had forecast. The company’s Google Now personal assistant uses data it collects on users and other contextual clues, such as their location and the time of day, to deliver information such as weather or traffic conditions before users ask for it. Another new Google service emails to suggest replies it has written for users.

Jack Nicas

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