If you hang around any industry long enough you'll see history repeating – and for me it looks like we're going back to the golden days of Clippy, Microsoft's helpful Office assistant. Except this time it's Google, and Clippy is AI-powered.
Clippy was an automated assistant. "It looks like you're writing a letter!" the anthromorphic paperclip would say, cheerfully. "Would you like help?" Today's equivalent is ChatGPT and other generative AI, and Google has announced plans to pack the tech into pretty much every product imaginable. Except this time, our Clippy is actually clever.
According to Google Workspace VP Johanna Voolich Wright, "Simply type a topic you’d like to write about, and a draft will instantly be generated for you. With your collaborative AI partner you can continue to refine and edit, getting more suggestions as needed."
This is either going to be really useful or absolutely rage-inducing.
What does AI bring to Google Workspace?
Google has all kinds of suggestions. Rewriting your letters to make them less aggressive; turning your bulleted notes into reports; auto-generating images in Slides; prioritising and writing emails in Gmail and "enable workflows for getting things done in Chat", which is the kind of corporate-speak I can imagine an AI wrote.
To begin with, these features will only be available to members of the Google Trusted Tester Program in the US. But the plan is to roll them out fairly quickly to everyone everywhere.
According to Wright, this is not the rise of the robots. Acknowledging the recent comic disaster when Google's AI, Bard, made a glaringly obvious error in its first public demo, Wright says that "AI is no replacement for the ingenuity, creativity, and smarts of real people. Sometimes the AI gets things wrong, sometimes it delights you with something offbeat, and oftentimes it requires guidance."
I'm fascinated by the potential here, and I'm no AI doomsayer. But I do wonder how much of the big tech firms' sudden desire to stick AI in everything – Microsoft is announcing its own AI integration for Office tomorrow (16 March) – isn't a sign that the tech is ready for prime time; I fear it's more about rushing to ensure they don't miss out on the next tech gold rush, fresh from the disappointment of NFTs and the Metaverse.