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Google showcases AI advances at its developers conference
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP)
  • --

Google is again putting artificial intelligence in the spotlight at its annual developers conference Tuesday.

The company opened its I/O event with literal bells and whistles at the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California — showing off what it's like to experiment with artificially intelligent synthesizers and inviting thousands of people to participate in an AI drawing game.

The demonstrations warmed up the crowd ahead of a keynote by CEO Sundar Pichai, who made announcements about the company's latest AI-powered services.

The company's digital concierge, known only as the Google Assistant, is gaining new abilities to handle tasks such as making restaurant reservations and placing other tedious phone calls without human hand-holding.

"Hi, I'm calling to book a hair appointment for a client," said a realistic-sounding automated voice in a demo from the conference stage. The AI voice used pauses and "ums" and "mmm-hmms" to sound more human during interactions with people.

The company said it is rolling out the technology, called Google Duplex, as an experiment in coming weeks.

"We really want to work hard to get this right," Pichai said.

The company is also introducing an autocomplete feature in its Gmail email service that uses machine learning to offer suggested ways to finish sentences users start typing. For example, "I haven't seen you" might be autocompleted to "I haven't seen you in a while and I hope you're doing well." Users can accept the completion by hitting tab.

For its photos service, Google is starting a new service called "Suggested Actions." If it recognizes a photo of someone who is a Google contact, it can suggest sending it to the person. It can also convert photos to PDFs and automatically add color to black-and-white photos or make part of a color photo black and white. The changes are coming in the next two months.

The search giant aims to make its assistant so useful that people can't live without it — or the search results that drive its advertising business. But it also wants to play up the social benefits of AI, and plans to showcase how it's being used to improve health care, preserve the environment and make scientific discoveries.

Pichai didn't emphasize the privacy and data security concerns that have put companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google in the crosshairs of regulators. But he did say company "can't just be wide eyed about the innovations technology creates."

"We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately," he said. "Our core mission is to make information more useful, accessible and beneficial to all of society."

It's too early in the year for Google to showcase any new hardware, which it tends to do ahead of the Christmas shopping season. Last week, however, it said its partner Lenovo will sell a $400 stand-alone virtual reality headset that doesn't require inserting a smartphone. (Facebook last week announced a competing $199 device called the Oculus Go.)

Google also last week updated actions that its assistant can perform on smartwatches powered by its Wear OS software. For instance, it can tell you about your day if you're wearing headphones instead of making you read your calendar.

O'Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this report.

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