Google and Microsoft are locked in a head-to-head competition to bring as much generative AI to their productivity services as possible. Just days before Microsoft’s “Future of Work” event, Google today announced a sweeping update to Workspace that will bring its generative AI models to virtually every part of its productivity suite, plus new developer solutions that will make Google’s basic models, including its 540 billion-parameter PaLM large language model for multi-turn chats, available to developers through an API and new low-code tools.
The caveats worth mentioning up front: At the moment, these new features will only be available to what Google calls “trusted testers.” It is not clear when they will reach a wider audience. There’s also no pricing information available yet, though it looks like at least a subset of these features will be available to consumers, including those on Google One plans. Basically, this is similar to Google’s LaMDA announcements a few weeks ago: they sound great, but it will be a while before you can test any of this in practice.
Google’s plan is to bring its generative AI models to virtually every part of Workspace, whether it’s writing emails for you in Gmail, helping you write (or retype) documents in Docs, generating formulas in Sheets, capturing notes in Meet; or create text, images, audio, and video in Slides. If I had to guess, Microsoft is likely to announce very similar updates later this week.
“Google Workspace has been a long-standing pioneer in enabling real-time collaboration, where humans work together in real time on our products,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said during a press conference ahead of today’s announcements. “This next phase is where we are bringing in humans to be supported by an AI collaborator who is working in real time in conjunction with them.”
Kurian said the company plans to rapidly roll out new features “every two weeks.” Throughout the year, Trusted Testers will have access to the first phase now, which will include getting help writing emails in Gmail and documents in Docs. The main features here, for now, are getting typing help and adjusting the tone and style of the text. But as Google stressed, that’s just the beginning (at least for the Trusted Tester group).
The promise here is that Google will eventually infuse AI into virtually every workflow in Workspace. This might mean summarizing an email conversation or brainstorming a Docs document. Of course, because so much of this is chat-based, Google Chat will also get support for some of these features, but so far, Google has only said that it will “enable workflows to do things in Chat.”
Perhaps the most impressive demo Google showed, though, was combining much of this text-based work with generative AI models for image and music generation, and using it to build a whole presentation around it. “With Presentations, we help you generate information and images from the text on your slides,” Kurian explained. “So you can use images from your rich library of content, your brand images, if you have your own company images, and private repositories, to generate these images and empower every person you build with slides, including generating of soundtracks”.
When asked about pricing, Kurian noted that the company plans to make “these solutions widely available to our businesses, small businesses, consumers, and even to people who subscribe to Google One.” And that’s pretty much all we know for now, though the mention of Google One is interesting given that Google has been pushing its subscription service, which offers additional cloud storage space as its main benefit, to slowly include more features. over time. including your VPN service.
It’s been no secret that Google was doing its best to bring generative AI to the widest possible range of its product. It’s a bit embarrassing that many of today’s ads look like vaporware, with only a select number of users accessing them for now. And while features like Smart Compose and Smart Reply are obviously widely available (and quite useful), Google seems hesitant to put its latest AI technology in the hands of everyday users.
The strategy here, however, seems correct. Google Workspace provides the biggest canvas for the company to bring its various AI technologies to users and Gmail and Docs are the easiest fruit to hit here, so it makes sense for Google to start there. It’s also where the large text models shine, all while Google avoids the problems Bing and ChatGPT face with their chatbots going off-script (although Microsoft seems to have this under control for now) and without any risk to its search business. .