A post went up today on the Google Research Blog called Computer Respond to this email outlining a new feature being rolled out for mobile versions of Gmail (iOS and Android). This new feature called Smart Reply (see screenshots above) is achieved through machine learning using Neural Networks and involves both natural language understanding and generation, both of which are really hard to do singularly, let alone together. They are calling this Sequence to Sequence Learning. To put it in language we all understand, Smart Reply gives Gmail a level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that enables it to understand the emails in our Inbox well enough to offer users possible response. Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean that Gmail is now sentient but it is way beyond the kind on canned response system we have been offered up until now.
Conceived and designed to facilitate more efficient email on mobile devices, this technology could clearly be a massive benefit across all devices for anybody with permanent physical access difficulties (as opposed to the situational kind experienced by fat-fingered mobile device users). If this feature works as well as Google claim it is easy to imagine how it might increase the efficiency of text communication for a switch or eyegaze user for example. In fact it’s not too much of a step to see it offering significant benefits to AAC users also. Anybody who has tried Googles Speech Recognition lately will have to admit that its accuracy has improved immensely. Combine that with this new tech and other data available to a mobile device (calendar, location, time) and we have all the ingredients of a really smart AAC system that can actually listen to people speaking to you in real time, then offer you a choices of responses based on its understanding of what they have said and other available contextual information. Do it Google (or someone), what are you waiting for?