While there will never be enough hours in the day to answer emails, Google’s new artificial intelligence system might be able to get you one step closer to Inbox Zero.
Google announced today (Nov. 3) that it’s about to release Smart Reply, a machine learning program built into its Inbox by Gmail apps that will craft email responses for you.
The new system works a bit like other quick-response options, similar to how the Apple Watch offers up responses to texts based on their content. When you open an email in Inbox, Smart Reply will choose three responses based on the content of the email—you just click one and press send, saving you the time of bashing out a perfunctory response on your phone’s touchscreen keyboard. While it’s not quite the AI system from the movie Her, Google’s system goes deeper than other programs out there: It learns, meaning the more it’s used, the better it will get at responding how you would respond.
The system also uses machine learning to figure out which emails need responding to—it won’t waste your time with newsletters or spam, the company promises. According to Google’s research department, the system is built on a system of neural networks—a machine learning system inspired by the way the human brain is wired. It’s similar to Google’s zany DeepDream program, but instead of turning photos into crazy, dog-filled nightmares, this neural network works to figure out the sentiment of the emails you’re sent, parsing the difference between phrases like, “Are you free tomorrow?” and ”Does tomorrow work for you?”
Google said the feature should be rolling out later in the week for both the Android and iOS versions of its Inbox by Gmail app. The company told Quartz that it had no plans to bring Smart Reply to the regular Gmail apps or Inbox website anytime soon.
Smart Reply seems to be part of an increased push at Alphabet, the recently formed holding company for Google and its offshoots, to bring artificial intelligence and machine learning to more of its core products. On Alphabet’s earnings call in October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is “rethinking everything” around machine learning. A few days later, the company confirmed that it’s launching RankBrain, a machine learning-based system to aid in the delivery of search results—the backbone of Google’s business. The company is also bringing machine learning to its Google Now smart assistant, and to voice search.
If Alphabet keeps it up, it might not be long before fiction becomes reality and the first true artificially intelligent computer is born out of our own search queries—or at the very least, manages to convince a human to fall in love with it.