Google Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Automatic Replies to Email Messages


Ever wished your phone could automatically reply to your email messages?

Well, Google just unveiled technology that’s at least moving in that direction. Using what’s called “deep learning”—a form of artificial intelligence that’s rapidly reinventing a wide range of online services—the company is beefing up its Inbox by Gmail app so that it can analyze the contents of an email and then suggest a few (very brief) responses. The idea is that you can rapidly respond to someone while on the go—without having to manually tap a fresh message into your smartphone keyboard.

“The network will tailor both the tone and content of the responses to the email you’re reading,” says Google product management director Alex Gawley. It gives you three of these responses, and you can then choose the one that best suits what you want to say.

Dubbed Smart Reply, the system learns to generate appropriate replies by analyzing scads of email conversations from across Google’s Gmail service, the world’s most popular internet-based email system. A deep learning service feeds information into what’s called a neural network—a vast network of machines that approximates the web of neurons in the human brain—and this neural network analyzes the information in order to “learn” a particular task. By analyzing thousands of cat photos, for instance, a neural net can learn to identify a cat. By analyzing a database of spoken words, it can learn to recognize the commands you speak into your smartphone. In this case, the system learns to compose email replies by analyzing real-world email conversations.

Experts on deep learning, however, will tell you that such systems have their limitations. “With a finite amounts of data, you can create a rudimentary understanding of the world,” says Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese Internet giant that also sits at the forefront of the deep learning movement, “but humans learn about the world in all sorts of ways [we can’t yet duplicate].” Indeed, Gawley acknowledges that Google’s Smart Reply system doesn’t always get things right. But that’s part of the reason the company provides three potential replies to each email—not just one. Plus, it lets you edit these replies and augment them with your own words.

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SOURCE: Wired, Cade Metz