Google I/O: Centrality Of Artificial Intelligence, Local Marketing, And (Yes) Optimism Draw Lines With Amazon, Facebook

Google's emphasis on local business for its Assistant, Maps and forthcoming Lens products has the search giant further postioning itself as the "anti-Amazon," UM's Joshua Lowcock explains.

The Google Assistant debuted only two years ago at Google’s I/O developer conference, but it’s rapidly taken on a more central role in the products and services the search giant is working on.

At Tuesday’s Google I/O, executives outlined the next steps for the artificial intelligence-powered Google Assistant, which has become the mind of the Google Home voice activated devices, and how AI is being more integrated into everything Google offers, from Maps to Gmail to Photos as well as new products such as the virtual reality tool Lens and the natural language program that will allow businesses to run a chatbot that can hold conversations with consumers “in the real world.”

Where Google Maps can now tell you if the business you’re looking for is open, how busy it is, and whether parking is easy to find before you arrive, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent Alphabet told attendees and viewers. “Lens lets you just point your camera and get answers about everything from that building in front of you … to the concert poster you passed … to that lamp you liked in the store window.”

Optimism Vs. Apologies, Small Biz Assistance Vs. Competition

Despite rising calls for more regulation of how companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the platforms that run on them harvest, manage, and deploy consumer data, the tone of Pichai’s and other executives speaking at Google I/O was striking for its optimism and intent to go further in how connecting its services to businesses and customers. And again, AI was at the center.

“There’s a huge opportunity for AI to transform many fields,” Pichai. Already we’re seeing some encouraging applications in healthcare. Two years ago, Google developed a neural net that could detect signs of diabetic retinopathy using medical images of the eye. This year, the AI team showed our deep learning model could use those same images to predict a patient’s risk of a heart attack or stroke with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy.”

That note of optimism is what struck Joshua Lowcock, EVP, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer USA/UM Global Brand Safety Officer, who compared Google’s moves to Facebook’s recent F8 developer conference, which featured Mark Zuckerberg primarily responding to fallout from Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of the social network’s user data during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Additionally, Lowcock also considered Google’s highlighting local, brick-and-mortar business services as a contrast to Amazon’s “frenemy” stance as regarded by SMBs.

“At Google I/O, there was a strong emphasis on small business and small business being the fabric of communities,” Lowcock told GeoMarketing. “If you consider the fundamental engineering difference between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa: Assistant is for answering search questions, Alexa is built to help you shop on Amazon. Offerings like Google Duplex give Google Assistant an edge in local (physical) commerce, it positions Google as a friend of small business, and indirectly opens the door to Assistant also helping with local eCommerce (not just commerce). It’s a counter position to Amazon which is all about driving to Amazon. It also helps Google in Asian markets, where supporting entrepreneurs and local communities is something Google champions.”

Another theme of IO was balancing technology well-being, being local community small-business minded makes technology personal and local – another Google Assistant point of difference, Lowcock said.

“Separate to all of the above, the tone of Google I/O vs F8 were very different. Google I/O was optimistic about the future of technology and much more visionary big bets around AI. F8, was less visionary and more apology tour and iterations on last year around VR, AR and stories (less visionary than last year and Google I/O),” Lowcock added. “I did notice that Google didn’t talk about Fake News in their Google News revamp, but did make a point of news being unfiltered.”

Google Assistant’s Voice Change

Google Assistant is now available on more than 500 million devices,  works with over 5,000 connected home devices, is integrated into more than 40 automative brands, Scott Huffman, VP, Engineering, Google Assistant, told the I/O crowd. Plus, it’ll be available in more than 30 languages and 80 countries by the end of the year.

In addition to speaking in more tongues, Google Assistant’s own voice is evolving.

Pointing to advancements in AI and WaveNet technology from DeepMind, Google can now create new voices in just a few weeks and are able “to capture subtleties like pitch, pace, and all the pauses that convey meaning, so that voices are natural-sounding and unique,” Huffman said. “Starting today, you can choose from six new voices for your Google Assistant. And John Legend will lend his melodic tones to the Assistant later this year.”

Voice is also getting “smarter” with a feature called “Multiple Actions,” which is already starting to roll out. With that tool, the Google Assistant will be able to understand more complex queries like “What’s the weather like in New York and in Austin?”

New Looks ‘Delivered’ For Google Assistant, Google Maps

Huffman also outlined a redesigned Assistant experience for smartphone screens. The Assistant will give you a quick snapshot of your day, with suggestions based on the time of day, location and recent interactions with the Assistant. To provide a summary of tasks and list items, we’re integrating popular notes and lists services from Google Keep,, Todoist and many more.

“We’re also bringing a new food pick-up and delivery experience to the Assistant that isn’t constrained by a chat-style interface, so you can order your favorites from Starbucks, Doordash and Applebee’s, in addition to existing partners like Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s,” Huffman said.

The new visual design will be available in the Google Assistant app later this year.

Most notably for local businesses, the Assistant is coming to navigation in Google Maps later this summer.

“You’ll be able to send text messages, play music and podcasts, and get information without leaving the navigation screen,” Huffman said, adding that there will also be safety measure embedded so as not to be distracting to drivers, similar to what Apple announced last summer for its iOS 11 update. For example, users can say “Hey Google, read me my messages” and you can get a summary of unread texts with the option to respond by voice.

Google Maps Gets Personal

Google Maps will take a virtual page from Assistant in other ways. For example, the ways search is evolving as a result of voice activation, where users can personalized, single answers as opposed to an infinite list of “blue links,”  will also influence the next steps for Google Maps.

“Say goodbye to endless scrolling through lists of recommended restaurants or group texts with friends that never end in a decision on where to go,” said Sophia Lin, Senior Product Manager, Google Maps. “The next time you’re exploring somewhere new, getting together with friends, or hosting out-of-towners in your own city, you can use Google Maps to make quick decisions and find the best spots.”

The redesigned Explore tab will serve as Google Maps users’ “hub for everything new and interesting nearby.”

“When you check out a particular area on the map, you’ll see dining, event, and activity options based on the area you’re looking at,” Lin said.

Top trending lists like the Foodie List show you where the tastemakers are going, and help users find new restaurants based on information from local experts, Google’s algorithms, and “trusted publishers” like The Infatuation, which acquired Google’s Zagat in March, among others.

“We’ll even help you track your progress against each list, so if you’ve crossed four of the top restaurants in the Meatpacking District off your list, you’ll know that you have six more to try,” Lin added, highlighting a whole new way for businesses to compete for consumers’ discovery.

Google Maps’ Business/Consumer Matchmaking

To take that a step further, Google Maps will also have a scoring feature called “Match.”

Tapping on any food or drink venue will display a user’s “match”—a number that suggests how likely you are to enjoy a place and reasons explaining why.

Here too, Lin pointed to the role of machine learning to generate this score, which is based on a few factors: what Google knows about a business, the food and drink preferences a user has selected in the past on Google Maps, places they’ve been to, and whether the user has rated a restaurant or added it to a list.

“Your matches change as your own tastes and preferences evolve over time—it’s like your own expert sidekick” Lin said, “helping you quickly assess your options and confidently make a decision.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.