What The Shift To An ‘AI-First World’ Means To Brands — And To Google

“We're living in a time where people are turning to their devices, not just for information, but to actually take actions for them,” said Google’s Naomi Makofsky at Yext’s Onward 17 conference.

Google’s goals over the past year have been pretty clear: it is intent on advancing the connections between artificial intelligence, hardware, and online/offline commerce.

It’s been a year since Google unveiled its “Made By Google” line of Connected Intelligence, voice-activated devices and Pixel phone – all powered by Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google.”)

Since then, it’s ramped up its challenge to Amazon’s Echo and Alexa’s shopping tools. The national brands that have formally aligned with Google’s voice-activated virtual assistant to accept spoken orders via the delivery marketplace Google Express include Costco, Guitar Center, Kohl’s, L’Occitane, Payless, PetSmart, Road Runner Sports, Sur La Table, Ulta, Walgreens, Amazon’s Whole Foods, and most recently, Walmart’s 4,700 stores.

As brands line up for what as Naomi Makofsky, Global Product Partnerships, Google Assistant, calls an “AI-first world,” marketers and consumers are scrambling figure out what it all means.

Speaking at at Yext’s Onward 17 conference earlier this month, Makofsky noted “it’s important for your technology to adapt to you, and not the other way around.” Here’s how she and Google are breaking that notion down and what it means for the future of search. (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here)

Google’s Naomi Makofsky at Yext’s Onward 17 conference

Personal Google

In making the announcement of “Made by Google” in October 2016, CEO Sundar Pichai identified Google’s ultimate goal as creating a “personal Google, just for you.”

“When Google was founded, there were about 300 million people using the internet,” Pichai said. The vast majority of them were sitting at desktop computers and looking for answers that came in the form of blue links.

“Today, the internet community is closer to 3 billion people, and you’re searching for all kinds of help everywhere — from your cars and your classrooms, to your homes, to the phones in your pockets,” Pichai continued. Across all these contexts and devices, there are even more questions to be asked, and more that we can do to help you get the answers you need.”

Searching For A Google Experience

This past October, the company launched its second-generation family of “Made by Google” hardware products “built with AI at the core.” But as Pichai noted in Google Q3 earnings call last month, the best AI software and hardware means nothing with a great user experience.

To do that, Pichai highlighted the new Google Home Max, a smart speaker powered by Google Assistant. “It has AI-based smart sound, which adapts the audio experience to the user’s environment context and preferences,” Pichai said.

In addition, Google opened a pair of brick-and-mortar pop-up shops in New York and Los Angeles in late October to promote its smart products, as well as its augmented reality/virtual reality tools along with other product accessories and “fun features” such as an interactive recreation of the set of Netflix’s Stranger Things 2.

Google NYC Pop Up Shop

Having a physical showcase makes the prospect of explaining Google’s offerings naturally easier.

“We are at a pretty incredible point in time in technology,” Makofsky said at Onward. “We’re living in a time where people are turning to their devices, not just for information, but to actually take actions for them. To schedule appointments, to get them from point A to point B, and even to clean their apartment after a mess.”

People of all ages that are engaging with technology in this way, disproving the notion that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Makofsky said, even citing her 65-year-old father, “who, suddenly, cannot fall asleep without ocean sounds on his Google Home device – much to my mother’s dismay, of course.”

All these uses of AI that most people wouldn’t have expected engaging with less than two years ago are becoming mainstream. Still, even as assisted AI is poised to shape products, companies, perhaps even entire industries, Makofsky cited Pichai’s prediction that, “In the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that’s AI first.”

“I know what many of you might be thinking: ‘What do you mean we’re moving from a mobile first world? I’m just kind of getting the hang of this thing,’” Makofsky said, intuiting likely reactions from those outside of tech conferences. “Mobile isn’t going anywhere, it’s just technology’s advancing, and user expectations are advancing with it; AI is really poised to help fund this change.”

The shape of things to come, as Makofsky explained it, is that instead of AI being focused on being embedded in mobile, desktop, or laptop computers, it’s already being placed in cars, refrigerators, washing machines, and those “little robo vacuums that you have running around your home today.”

Naomi Makofsky: Pretty much every brand – 87 percent of all marketers — believes that this technology is going to play a significant role in marketing before 2021.

The Natural Language Influence

But Google’s view isn’t simply general. These changes wrought by AI are being filtered by Google’s core: search and discovery. As such, being able to understand, intuit, and predict natural language learning – i.e., the way people speak, as opposed to the way they code – will require some adjustment on Google’s part.

And that adjustment will have clear implications for brands.

“We’re also seeing that people are engaging with these devices in a much more natural way,” Makofsky said. “In fact, 70 percent of queries are done using natural language. This is incredible. Remember the way that you used to query? Where you’d type in those key words and you kind of hope for the best and search the blue links. Not anymore.”

For example, a user can say something as natural as “Do I need an umbrella today”? They would then expect to be able to be given an answer that says if it’s going to rain, and if it’s going to rain in the next couple of hours without having to spell every minute aspect out.

“User expectations are at an all time high,” Makofsky noted. “We have these concept of micro-moments: It’s when you’re on the go, you run out of your house, you’re waiting for the subway or picking up your kids from soccer. It’s all these little sessions where you’re engaging and asking questions, and taking action, and expecting to be able to complete whatever it is you’re trying to do. We want to make sure people get that 24/7 customized support from their favorite brands, which brands can really only do well if they have a smart conversational platform to help them with it.

Pretty much every brand – 87 percent of all marketers, Makofsky said — believes that this technology is going to play a significant role in marketing before 2021.

“That’s in three years… Three years,” Makofsky said with a dramatic pause. “We think about how quickly mobile changed the game, this is going to change it in a much faster pace just as well.”

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.