If the sprawling opening day at Google's I/O 2013 conference made one thing clear, it’s that Google knows everything about everything.
To stay competitive in today’s tech market, Google is brandishing its biggest weapon: Data. Massive amounts of data. The company knows so much about us it can serve as a cross between a personal assistant and a brain extension. The major product announcements from the opening day of Google’s annual developer conference reflect that, all trending toward the founders’ dream of artificial intelligence. Basically, Google is reading our data so that it will be able to read our minds.
All this personalized information has the potential to be transformative—so long as you’re not concerned with things like privacy or corporate world domination. It all depends on how much creepy we’re willing to put up with in exchange for usefulness.
In that spirit, here's a look at some of the magical and unnerving features announced at I/O:
“SEARCH AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER”
The world’s leading search engine admitted that search is totally antiquated. Google is inching closer towards the dream of the semantic web. It has updated the Knowledge Graph, which launched a year ago today, and is a mechanism to add contextual meaning to information in order to understand the intent behind a query and provide a better answer.
"Finding things is tricky, and so you really want intelligence,” Brin and Page said in their 2008 TED Talk. “And in fact, the ultimate search engine would be smart. It would be artificial intelligence.”
Now you can literally have a conversation with your computer. Google’s voice search/Siri counterpart called “hot wording” is available now on desktop. Say “OK Google,” and ask a question, request a reminder, pull up dinner reservations, and so on, and the computer will respond.
GOOGLE+ WILL SUCK A LITTLE LESS
Google is still pushing its social network, laboriously trying and failing to take on Facebook. Its big advantage? Again, intelligence. When you upload photos to Google+, it automatically highlights the photos it “thinks” are the best, based on whether or not people are smiling, if there are major landmarks in the shot and other data. “Your darkroom is now a data center,” the slogan goes.
Google will also smooth out wrinkles, perfect skin blemishes and automatically enhance the photos. (That is, unless you feel weird about this and turn it off.) For a little pizazz, a new feature called “Auto Awesome” takes a string of shots snapped in a sequence and automatically creates a short video with them—Google’s version of the GIF.
Also, Google+ got a redesign, so it’s prettier. Thank god.
Google Maps for desktop got a total overhaul. The new user interface brings the full Google brain to the map experience; the goal is creating a personalized map for every user. Again the company is playing with anticipation and discovery here. When you search for places, it also makes recommendations based on Zagat reviews, what your Google+ contacts like, other places you’ve been. The map’s behavior morphs as you use it, remembering what you like, where you live and work, where you recently went. Creeped out yet?
It integrates info about flights, public transit, live incident reports, re-routes for traffic, and offers 360-degree tours inside local businesses. Google Earth and Street View are built in (no plug in or download needed) so you can transition to the third dimension instantly while you navigate. Google Earth zooms all the way out to space, where you can see Earth with real-time clouds. Real-time clouds, people!
Sign up to try it out here.
I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed by Google’s unfortunately named subscription music service--Google Play Music All Access--especially since I’m not the target audience, which is clearly Android users; the product was introduced by Chris Yerga, Android's engineering director. But now I must admit I found myself up until 2 a.m. playing around with it.
Google Play does what Spotify, Rdio and Pandora do, but nothing new—except, once again, it embraces Google’s ability to read your mind. You pull in your music library—automatically from your Google Play music locker, for anyone that actually has one—and it mixes with Google’s library of “millions” of songs. (They didn’t specify; Spotify has some 20 million.) Then based on what you own, have played recently, thumbed up and thumbed down, it will—yet again—make recommendations. And here’s a funny thing: There are curated playlists from Google's "music experts,” like introductions to emo (I know) or top tracks in down-tempo electro-pop.
I’m guessing that, for people not already living within the Google ecosystem, it’ll be a hard sell to steal users away from Spotify or Rdio, particularly since there’s no “freemium” option ($9.99/month or $7.99 for early adopters), though the 30-day free trial will help. Time will tell.
My best wager? If there's a second thing Day 1 of I/O made clear it's that the ecosystem Google is building is going get harder to resist.