8 big announcements from Google I/O 2018

Google kicked off its annual I/ O developer conference at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California. Here are some of the biggest proclamations from the Day 1 keynote. There will be more to come over the next couple of days, so follow along on everything Google I/ O on TechCrunch.

Google goes all in on artificial intelligence, rebranding its research division to Google AI

Just before the keynote, Google announced it is rebranding its Google Research division to Google AI. The move signals how Google has increasingly focused R& D on computer vision, natural language processing, and neural networks.

Google makes talking to the Assistant more natural with “continued conversation”

What Google announced: Google announced a” continued dialogue” update to Google Assistant that stimulates talking to the Assistant feel more natural. Now, instead of having to say “Hey Google” or “OK Google” every time you want to say a command, you’ll merely have to do so the first time. The company also is adding a new feature that allows you to ask multiple questions within the same request. All this will roll out in the coming weeks.

Why it’s important : When you’re having a typical dialogue, odds are you are asking follow-up questions if you didn’t get the answer you wanted. But it is feasible to jarring to have to say ” Hey Google” every single hour, and it violates the whole flowing and makes the process feel pretty unnatural. If Google wants to be a significant player when it comes to voice interfaces, the actual interaction has to feel like a dialogue — not only a series of queries.

Google Photos gets an AI boost

What Google announced: Google Photos already induces it easy for you to correct photos with built-in editing tools and AI-powered features for automatically creating collages, movies and stylized photos. Now, Photos is getting more AI-powered fixes like B& W photo colorization, brightness correction and suggested rotations. A new version of the Google Photos app will suggest quick fix and tweaks like rotations, brightness corrections or adding pops of color.

Why it’s important : Google is working to become a hub for all of your photos, and it’s be permitted to woo potential users by offering powerful tools to edit, kind, and modify those photos. Each additional photo Google gets offers it more data and helps them get better and better at image recognition, which in the end not only improves the user experience for Google, but also constructs its own tools for its services better. Google, at its heart, is a search company — and it needs a lot of data to get visual search right.

Google Assistant and YouTube are coming to Smart Displays

What Google announced : Smart Displays were the talk of Google’s CES push this year, but we haven’t heard much about Google’s Echo Show competitor since. At I/ O, we got a little more insight into the company’s smart showing efforts. Google’s first Smart Displays will launch in July, and of course will be powered by Google Assistant and YouTube. It’s clear that the company’s expended some resources into building a visual-first version of Assistant, justifying the addition of a screen to the experience.

Why it’s important: Users are increasingly getting accustomed to the idea of some smart device sitting in their living room that will answer their questions. But Google is looking to create a system where a user can ask questions and then have an option to have some kind of visual display for actions that only can’t be resolved with a voice interface. Google Assistant handles the voice part of that equation — and having YouTube is a good service that runs alongside that.

Google Assistant is coming to Google Maps

What Google announced : Google Assistant is coming to Google Maps, available on iOS and Android the summer months. The addition is meant to provide better recommendations to users. Google have all along worked to stimulate Maps seem more personalized, but since Maps is now about far more than merely directions, the company is introducing new features to give you better recommendations for local places.

The maps integration also combines the camera, computer vision technology, and Google Maps with Street View. With the camera/ Maps combination, it really looks like you’ve jumped inside Street View. Google Lens can do things like identify houses, or even dog breeds, merely by pointing your camera at the object in question. It will also be able to identify text.

Why it’s important: Maps is one of Google’s biggest and most important products. There’s a lot of exhilaration around augmented reality — you can point to phenomena like Pokemon Go — and companies are just starting to scratch the surface of the best use instances for it. Figuring out directions seems like such a natural use lawsuit for a camera, and while it was a bit of a technical accomplishment, it dedicates Google yet another perk for its Maps users to keep them inside the service and not switch over to alternatives. Again, with Google, everything comes back to the data, and it’s able to capture more data if users stick around in its apps.

Google announces a new generation for its TPU machine learning hardware

What Google announced : As the war for creating customized AI hardware heats up, Google said that it is rolling out its third generation of silicon, the Tensor Processor Unit 3.0. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the new TPU is 8x more powerful than last year per pod, with up to 100 petaflops in performance. Google joins pretty much every other major company in looking to create custom silicon in order to handle its machine operations.

Why it’s important: There’s a race to create the best machine learning tools for developers. Whether that’s at the framework level with tools like TensorFlow or PyTorch or at the actual hardware level, the company that’s be permitted to lock developers into its ecosystem will have an advantage over the its competitors. It’s especially important as Google appears to construct its cloud platform, GCP, into a massive business while going up against Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft Azure. Devoting developers — who are already adopting TensorFlow en masse — a way to speed up their operations can help Google continue to woo them into Google’s ecosystem.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA- MAY 08: Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address at the Google I/ O 2018 Conference at Shoreline Amphitheater on May 8, 2018 in Mountain View, California. Google’s two day developer conference operates through Wednesday May 9.( Photo by Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images)

Google News gets an AI-powered redesign

What Google announced : Watch out, Facebook. Google is also planning to leverage AI in a revamped version of Google News. The AI-powered, redesigned news destination app will” allow users to keep up with the news they care about, understand the full narrative, and enjoy and support the publishers they trust .” It will leverage parts found in Google’s digital magazine app, Newsstand and YouTube, and introduces new features like “newscasts” and “full coverage” to help people get a summing-up or a more holistic position of a news story.

Why it’s important : Facebook’s main product is literally called ” News Feed ,” and it serves as a major source of information for a non-trivial section of countries around the world. But Facebook is embroiled in a scandal over personal data of as many as 87 million users ending up in the hands of a political research firm, and there are a lot of questions over Facebook’s algorithms and whether they surface up legitimate information. That’s a huge hole that Google could exploit by offering a better news product and, once again, lock users into its ecosystem.

Google unveils ML Kit, an SDK that constructs it easy to add AI smarts to iOS and Android apps

What Google announced : Google unveiled ML Kit, a new software growth kit for app developers on iOS and Android that allows them to integrate pre-built, Google-provided machine learning models into apps. The models support text recognition, face detecting, barcode scan, image labeling and landmark recognition.

Why it’s important: Machine learning tools have enabled a new wave of use cases that include use examples built on top of image recognition or speech detecting. But even though frameworks like TensorFlow have attained it easier to build applications that tap those tools, it can still take a high level of expertise to get them off the ground and operating. Developers often figure out the best use suits for new tools and devices, and growth kits like ML Kit assist lower the barrier to entry and give developers without a ton of expertise in machine learning a playground to start figuring out interesting use suits for those appliocations.

So when will you be able to actually play with all these new features? The Android P beta is available today, and you can find the upgrade here .

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Researchers show Siri and Alexa can be exploited with silent commands hidden in songs

Researchers at UC Berkeley have shown they can embed within anthems stealthy commands for popular voice deputies that can prompt platforms like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant to carry out actions without humans getting wise.

The research, reported earlier by The New York Times, is a more actionable evolution of something security researchers have been indicating great interest in — fooling Siri 😛 TAGEND

Last year, researchers at Princeton University and China’s Zhejiang University demonstrated that voice-recognition systems could be activated by use frequencies inaudible to the human ear. The attack first muted the phone so the owner wouldn’t hear the system’s answers, either.

The technique, which the Chinese researchers called DolphinAttack, can inform smart devices to visit malicious websites, initiate telephone call, take a image or send text messages. While DolphinAttack has its restrictions — the transmitter must be close to the receive device — experts warned that more powerful ultrasonic systems were possible.

That warning was borne out in April, when researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated ultrasound assaults from 25 feet away. While the commands couldn’t penetrate walls, they could control smart devices through open windows from outside a building.

The specific research arising as a result of Berkeley can hide commands to attain calls or visit specific websites without human listeners being able to discern them. The modifications add some digital noise but nothing that sounds like English.

These exploits are still in their infancy, as are the security capabilities of the voice assistants. As abilities widen for smart deputies that make it easier for users to send emails, messages and money with their voice, things like this are a bit worrisome.

One takeaway is that digital assistant makers may have to get more serious about voice authentication so they can determine with greater accuracy whether the owner of a device is the one voicing commands, and if not, lock down the digital assistant’s capabilities. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant both offer optional features that lock down personal information to a specific user on the basis of their voice pattern; meanwhile, most sensitive info on iOS devices necessitates the device to be unlocked before it’s accessed.

The potential here is nevertheless frightening and something that should be addressed early on, publicly. As we considered from some of Google’s demoes with their Duplex software at I/ O the coming week, the company’s aspirations for their voice deputy are building rapidly, and as the company begins to release Smart Display devices with its partners that integrate cameras, possibilities for abuse is widening.

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CES 2018

There are bad ways to get to CES, and then there’s this — a 10-day, cross-country bike ride. It’s a week and change of 17 -hour days expended peddling through zero-degree temperatures across the Midwest. Hell, it’s early January — even Las Vegas is near freezing this time of year.

This is one way to put your new electric bicycle wheel through its paces ahead of launching. But more importantly, it’s a pretty solid advertising stunt, funded by Google — a company that likes making a grand entryway. It’s all part of what’s shaping up to be a pretty big push for Google Assistant at the year’s biggest consumer electronics show.

Electron’s Gen 2 Wheel was actually announced a few months, and is currently up for pre-sale from the company’s site for $799( with Best Buy availability arriving at some point in the future ). The whole Google Assistant bit, however, is new for CES, and will onlybe available in beta when the wheel starts shipping in February.

Google clearly wasn’t content with Assistant only being on phones and smart speakers, so it approached Electron as a potential partner. It’s arguably one of the most interesting implementations of the smart assistant to date, and actually stimulates more sense than the initial novelty of the whole thing suggests.

“As we have worked with Google to integrate Assistant, it’s really made us excited about how to attain the user experience as simple as is practicable and how voice technology can be integrated while riding, ” Electron VP James Parker told TechCrunch. “There’s all of this nice command technology in automobiles. We think there’s so much opportunity to use that technology while riding a bike.

The Electron wheel works like most other front-wheel-powered bicycle add-ons.Installation should take less than a minute according to the company, snapping the wheel onto the front speaks. Then you secure a sensor to one of the pedals with a Velcro strap. That’s pretty much it.

In default mode, the system use an incline sensor to see when you’re going up a hill and then kicks in to assist. You can customize the assist level through Electron’s app, but even with a handlebar mount, that’s candidly various kinds of of a ache. That’s where the whole Google Assistant bit comes in.

There’s no microphone on board the wheel itself( perhaps there will be in some future version ), so you’ll still need your microphone with earshot. “OK Google, start motorcycle ride” will fire up the wheel and start tracking stats through the Electron app. Beyond that, you can use Assistant to change the level of assistance, find out the wheel’s battery level and have it read out stats as you’re riding around.

The wheel’s cross-country journey will kick off the morning of December 31 st, with rider Max Lippe taking off from Union Square in Manhattan. He’ll ride for around 17 hours each day, before( hopefully) arriving at CES 10 days later. The wheel itself is rated at up to 50 miles on a charge, meaning the team will have to swap it out reasonably regularly.

To do that, a van will trail Lippe, with six wheels in tow, constantly being charged up so they’re ready to go. If all runs according to plan, he should arrive in Vegas on January 10, the second day of the depict.

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Bose debuts new Google Assistant-optimized noise cancelling headphones

Bose’s rumored QC 35 II noise-cancelling headphones are rumored no more: Bose attained them official today, disclosing the update to the company’s popular QC 35 premium noise-cancelling cans.

Google worked with Bose to create the new headphones, the company explained in a new blog post, helping to “optimize” the audio accessory for Assistant, Google’s virtual helper software for iPhone and Android. The headphones have a dedicated Assistant button, which users can pushing to call up the voice-based companion whenever they want.

They don’t have Assistant on board as a dedicated service, per se- instead, they incorporate support for Assistant-based offerings including incoming notifications, audio features like news briefings and voice commands for calling and music playback.

Assistant support will be available on the QC 35 II in the U.S ., Australia, Canada, Germany, France and the UK, and the headset retails for $349 in the U.S.- the same cost as the QC 35 that came before.

Google mentions in its blog post on the new partnership and integration that it’s been working with Bose on Assistant integration for headphones “starting with” the QC 35 II, which implies that we could see this feature expand to even more of the Bose line.

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How Google could fire up its smart home play

When it was unveiled at last years I/ O, Home felt like little more than Googles attempt to cash in on the Echos success. And the intervening year hasnt been a lot to dispel that notion. The company announced a handful of additions to Home and Assistant at this years event to try to pulling even with Amazons lead, but the whole Google Home offering still feels ambling and aimless.

That Google thought it had a slam dunk with Assistant on the mobile side hasnt helped much, either. Since launching on the Pixel back in October, the voice helper still has a limited reaching. Amazon, meanwhile, has constructed the jump onto handsets by companies like HTC and Huawei, while others, including Samsung, have opted to just construct their own damned deputy in house.

Its clear Assistant is a long play for Google. The company has the technological infrastructure and machine learning capabilities to build something truly great. For now, the thing doesnt do much to distinguish itself from Alexa( unless you count annoying people with unwanted audio ads, or being annoyingly triggered by opportunistic Tv ads ), but its still in the companys best interest to get Assistant as widely distributed as possible.

Home is definitely a big piece of that puzzle, as it attempts to plant its flag in the smart home. But from the looks of industry estimations, Googles late start isnt doing it any favors. Recent analyst estimations put the company at around 23 percent of the 35 million or so devices currently out there. Amazons number is hovering around 70 percent.

Last year, Sundar Pichai described Googles aim with AI as being to build a personal Google for everyone, everywhere . But the flip side of that desire is the fact that calculating is no longer tethered to desktops and is fast becoming fragmented across all sorts of vying devices and interfaces( like Amazons Echo) so a strategic imperative here for Google is that the future of its search business depends on its algorithms remaining persistently available; within reach or earshot wherever people are, whatever network theyre use else it risks losing its hard-won status as a verb synonymous with digital search.

So while Mountain View is trying to seize on the smart home as an opportunity, consumer momentum on this front also presents an undeniable danger for it attaining Google vulnerable to a shift in calculating behaviour that favors voice assistants over traditional search. Because the best algorithm at coordinating the internet is not automatically the best( or most popular) voice assistant.

Being able to plug into a vast e-commerce marketplace, as Amazons Alexa does, and reach out to all sorts of third-party services to extend utility( as Alexa maintains doing) is probably more obviously obliging to the average person sitting on their sofa right now versus summoning up a verbal version of Google. Alexa has most of the skills right now.

And theres more heat incoming. Earlier this week, Andy Rubin-led startup Essential also announced its own plans to attack the smart home. And, next week, Apple is expected to show off its big play at WWDC, with a rumored Siri speaker. Though, Apple being Apple, the company will most likely fixate on the premium end of the market, tell with a device for audiophiles , not just control freaks. So while things are about to get tighter, Google still has some room to maneuver to grab itself a bigger chunk of the mainstream smart home market and thus a chance to reduce the strategic squeezing on its traditional search business.

OK, Google

Leverage your smart home synergies: Google, you own Nest. Why not use it to spread the Assistant gospel? Like Amazons recent partnership with Ecobee, Nest products are a no-brainer for Assistant integration and not just third-party actions. Construct the Assistant immediately into the product. Google has been attaining similar moves with its Tv and Android Wear offerings, but adding a mic array immediately into the thermostat or smoke alarm would be a simple way to place Assistant into even more homes without having to sell individual Home units.

Google, you own Nest. Why not use it to spread the Assistant gospel? Like Amazons recent partnership with Ecobee, Nest products are a no-brainer for Assistant integration and not just third-party actions. Construct the Assistant immediately into the product. Google has been attaining similar moves with its Tv and Android Wear offerings, but adding a mic array immediately into the thermostat or smoke alarm would be a simple way to place Assistant into even more homes without having to sell individual Home units. Make a smaller, cheaper Home: Another no-brainer. A Google Home Dot, if you will. Weve heard rumblings that such a device is in development for a fall launching. Without much to distinguish Assistant on the back end at the moment, Google is going to have to keep its pricing competitive. Its a hard game to play for Google, for whom hardware is often a loss leader, but if it wants to lock users into Assistant fast, its going to have to offer something at around the $50 cost phase just to level with Amazons pricing.

Another no-brainer. A Google Home Dot, if you will. Weve heard rumblings that such a device is in development for a fall launching. Without much to distinguish Assistant on the back end at the moment, Google is going to have to keep its pricing competitive. Its a hard game to play for Google, for whom hardware is often a loss leader, but if it wants to lock users into Assistant fast, its going to have to offer something at around the $50 cost phase just to level with Amazons pricing. Bundles: Better still, find a way to offer Google Home for free. For instance: a Pixel/ Home bundle. Weve also heard Google is plotting along these lines. Awarded, by most accounts, the Pixel hasnt been a runaway hit( to its implementation of sales figures ), but flinging in a free Home Dot could sweeten the bargain and drive momentum to both Google hardware divisions. The rivalry has also been offering similar bundles for a while, such as Samsung with the Galaxy S8, which threw in a free Gear VR. Bundling is also an excellent way to prime the pump by, in this instance, get a still by-no-means mainstream device into the living rooms of people who wouldnt buy a Home on its own merits and may not even have come across such a device yet.

Better still, find a way to offer Google Home for free. For instance: a Pixel/ Home bundle. Weve also heard Google is plotting along these lines. Awarded, by most accounts, the Pixel hasnt been a runaway hit( to its implementation of sales figures ), but flinging in a free Home Dot could sweeten the bargain and drive momentum to both Google hardware divisions. The rivalry has also been offering similar bundles for a while, such as Samsung with the Galaxy S8, which threw in a free Gear VR. Bundling is also an excellent way to prime the pump by, in this instance, get a still by-no-means mainstream device into the living rooms of people who wouldnt buy a Home on its own merits and may not even have come across such a device yet. Move for third-party integration: Were starting to see third parties offering up full Alexa functionality on their products, which has the potential to profoundly expand Amazons smart assistants reach. Lets be real, that isnt happening any time soon via Android Wear. Apple won the wearables category( at least for now ). So are actively involved, Google.Theres an important lesson to be learned from Amazons work with Conexant to create a mic system growth kit that attains it easier for companies to prototype and, when the time comes, develop the on-board mic hardware into a production-ready division. And while the Amazon brand clearly has big pulling power for consumers, which in turn devotes third party an incentive to plump for Alexa over Google, Googles stated aims to achieve its AI Assistant to be everywhere, helping everyone is a reminder of the extent and scale of its ambition, too. And Google is still Google. For plenty of Android users the ability to get the same AI Assistant across lots of different IoT devices should be a strong selling phase.