During his keynote at the Mountain View, Calif. tech giant’s I/O (input/output) conference, Google Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai (above) referred to the company’s myriad efforts to expand the reach of its artificial intelligence (AI)- and machine learning-driven Google Assistant as preparing for a world that’s AI-first, rather than mobile-first. Read on for some examples – which included, yes, the Canadian release of Google Home and Google Assistant for iOS.

Much of the developer-focused I/O keynote was devoted to the many ingenious new uses Google’s engineers have developed using the company’s machine-learning and AI technology, which Pichai announced would now be developed under a single umbrella, Google.ai, and powered by a new second-generation processing facility we won’t pretend to understand. We’re far more impressed by its AI’s ability to detect what we’re trying to draw and replace it with something professional, as Pichai himself demonstrated with this cat.

Also announced during the keynote was Google Lens, an AI-driven feature initially available in Google Photos that will allow users to, for example, shoot a picture of a flower, a restaurant sign, or WLAN password and immediately have their phones take the next logical step, identifying said flower, sharing the restaurant’s Google rating, or inputting the password and connecting the user’s mobile device to the Internet.

It can also, as Google vice-president of engineering Scott Huffman demonstrated, read a sign in a foreign language and immediately translate it. (This particular sign, Huffman said, was in front of an Osaka restaurant with a long lineup; his phone informed him that the restaurant was serving octopus dumplings, then showed him a picture when he asked what octopus dumplings look like.)

Expected after yesterday’s leaks but no less welcome for it, Huffman also announced that Google Assistant was now available for competitor Apple Inc.’s iPhone – and that it was also releasing a software development kit to help developers incorporate Google Assistant into their apps. Huffman also noted that Google Assistant would be released in several additional languages this week, including French, German, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Is Google Home finally being released in Canada? Yes, Google vice-president of product management Rishi Chandra confirmed, this summer Google Home will finally be released in Canada – and what’s more, both Canadian and American users will be able to use Home to call phone numbers located anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, for free. We can’t imagine Bell or Rogers are going to be happy about that.

Also expected in light of yesterday’s leaks was Google Photos’ new Photo Books feature, demonstrated by Google Photos vice-president Anil Sabharwal, which takes advantage of Google’s AI capabilities to identify the best photos in a user’s collection according to a specific set of search criteria and assembles them into a coffee-table book the user can order in hardcover or softcover editions.

We’ll admit, we aren’t certain why YouTube product manager Sarah Ali thought YouTube’s support for 360-degree video on smart TVs, or televisions connected to smart television devices or gaming consoles, was worth showcasing, but it makes about as much sense as watching 360-degree footage of Coachella on your monitor.

Not AI-related, but after seeing the next Android operating system (called “Android O”)’s support for picture-in-picture feature, which Google vice-president of Android engineering Dave Burke demonstrated by making a list of items he’d need to help his kids build a lemonade while watching a tutorial video on YouTube, we’re amazed we didn’t think of it sooner.

Back to AI, Burke also demonstrated how the company was using machine-learning to extend Chrome’s autofill features to mobile apps, allowing verified users to automatically log into everything from Twitter to their online bank account when activating a new Android phone with their Google identity.

Similar to Facebook Inc.’s efforts to bring a scaled-down version of the Internet to developing countries, Google vice-president of product management Sameer Samat revealed Android Go – a scaled-down version of Android O that the company hopes can be used to help entry-level devices run a variety of apps smoothly by minimizing the amount of processing power needed to run them.

Finally, Google vice-president of virtual reality Clay Bavor revealed the extent of Google’s current VR- and AR-related ambitions, including demonstrations of its Daydream and Tango platforms, which Bavor announced would soon be supported by the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Users who would rather not use a phone to experience virtual reality, meanwhile, are invited to try the WorldSense, a series of standalone headsets the company is developing in tandem with Vive maker HTC. Prices and release dates were not announced, though Bavor mentioned the company was also working with Lenovo on a standalone headset, and that WorldSense would likely be released by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Bavor’s Tango AR platform demonstration involved a tour of Lowe’s, with the unseen user taking advantage of the platform’s positional tracking technology to guide them to the item they wanted both by guiding the user through a video game-style minimap and highlighting the desired product once it was found.


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Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.