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Google adds AI smarts to G Suite with Google Assistant and Docs updates

Google's AI expertise has long been a strength, and the company has been steadily adding machine-learning capabilities to its G Suite platform. The latest move in that effort allows users to access certain G Suite apps with Google Assistant and introduces Smart Compose text suggestions to Google Docs.

Google first announced it would bring its AI voice assistant to G Suite earlier this year; a beta is now under way that lets users manage their Google Calendar schedules with voice commands. This includes the ability to read out calendar entries, as well as create, cancel or reschedule events. G Suite admins can sign up for the beta here.

Users can also send emails to meeting participants, kick off voice and video calls hands-free using Google's Hangouts Meet app, and interact with the Asus-built Google Hangouts Meet hardware in conference rooms to join and exit meetings and make phone calls.

AI voice assistants are beginning to make inroads into the workplace, and analyst firm Gartner has forecast that 25% of digital workers will interact with virtual assistants on a daily basis within two years.

With Google Assistant already popular among consumers, Google is well placed to push the use of voice technologies in a business context too, said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC.

"The race for voice is on, and Google is very well positioned with robust features, security from the Google Cloud and significantly more learning points than most if not all of their competitors," said Kurtzman.

Google also benefits from having an extensive suite of business applications, said Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight. That's different than Amazon, which has also targeted its voice assistant at office workers with the Alexa for Business service.

"Until now, Amazon has been the most high-profile player here with Alexa for Business, but it doesn't have the cloud productivity portfolio to help steer its direction, so there is a real opportunity for Google," said Ashenden.

The challenge for Google and others, said Kurtzman, is to assure customers that the requisite security and governance capabilities are in place, offering corporate and personal privacy for every region and industry.

"Google is understandably wary of moving too fast; it is a sensitive area that spans business and personal identities, so it's important not to lose the trust of both audiences by pushing too far too quickly," said Ashenden.

Google and Amazon are far from the only business software vendors that see an opportunity for voice interfaces. Microsoft, for instance, recently announced it has integrated its Cortana voice assistant into the Outlook mobile app, while Salesforce has been building out the capabilities of its under-development Einstein Voice Assistant. Oracle also wants to let users interact with its suite of applications using its voice-enabled Digital Assistant.

Smart Compose and autocorrect

Google also announced it will bring Smart Compose to Google Docs. The feature, already available as a beta in Gmail, uses AI to help users draft documents faster by suggesting common phrases that reduce repetitive writing.

"With Smart Compose, Google has seen it have a major impact in Gmail where it's used in 10% of responses now, and I think it will be a very valuable addition to Docs as well," said Ashenden.

"The fact that it adapts to your style over time means that it's likely to become one of those features that no one thought they needed, but they become so reliant on it they won't want to do without it.

"Google is not the only company building AI-assisted content creation; Salesforce demoed related features at Dreamforce that could fit into its Quip app in the future.

"However, Google is the furthest ahead with these types of AI-assisted productivity features, embedding them into the G Suite products to accelerate tasks and make the tools more sticky," Ashenden said.

Grammar corrections and suggestions in Docs have been enhanced thanks to the addition of new neural network technology, which is slated to be available soon.

Google's assistive AI tool will also be able to recognize commonly used words and acronyms that are specific to a project or organization, learning to avoid underlining and marking these as incorrect. It will also suggest corrections if these are misspelled.

This story, "Google adds AI smarts to G Suite with Google Assistant and Docs updates" was originally published by Computerworld.