Email accounts were one of the first products we all interfaced with on the Internet, and it's pretty incredible they've stayed so relevant while changing very little in terms of functionality and interface. Sure, different services allow you to sort your emails differently, eliminate spam, and the like, but the key features have always remained constant: you have an inbox, you open emails, and you respond to some. Ever the innovator, though, Google's new Smart Reply scans emails and offers contextually based responses for you to pick from, in many cases eliminating the need to type at all.
Prior to this feature, automated email responses were the closest thing you'd get to artificial intelligence replying to emails for you. Those have always been pretty rigid, though, mostly used to alert people that you're unavailable during a vacation or something similar with an immediate prewritten message.
According to a Gmail blog post announcing the news, Smart Reply "suggests up to three responses based on the emails you get. For those emails that only need a quick response, it can take care of the thinking and save precious time spent typing. And for those emails that require a bit more thought, it gives you a jump start so you can respond right away." So that likely means if you get an emotional love letter sent to via email, the AI isn't going to be able to deeply profess your love right back or lay the interested party down softly. But this could also just be the beginning, and Google will be sure to pay close attention to how users take advantage of the options suggested to them. That'll allow the company to be able to make the replies even smarter as the feature evolves.
So what else is going to follow this automated path?
Twenty years ago, in the earliest days of email, if someone told people this new technology could eventually have robots reading their messages and responding for them, many would have likely freaked out. Even when a technology is possible in theory, it can take a long time for the general public to be ready for it. Clearly email use and clutter has evolved significantly since then to the point where a feature like Smart Reply is seen as a helpful tool, not as something rather strange and invasive.
So what else in our lives could soon see automation that cuts down on the need for human input? Self-driving cars are speeding into reality faster than anyone could have expected and a key example of the kind of AI-driven technology that we aren't so sure we're ready for. Drones have been in existence for a while and the only thing standing in the way of big-time companies such as Amazon using them to deliver goods to customers around the world are tricky regulations surrounding air traffic.
To predict what else could follow, look no further than even the most minor annoyances that cause friction in your day-to-day life. Companies in the age of a get-rich-quick mentality in the tech industry are always looking for the next opportunity to make a large number of people's lives even a little easier with the help of an intuitive app or automated service.
Soon you might see a next level within products you already use often, like dating apps that match for you, food delivery apps that know when to put in a request and what you'll want, and shopping apps that find you stuff you didn't even know you wanted. If it sounds invasive now, that's because it is — incredibly so. But it might not feel that way in a few years.
Cover image: Pixabay