When Google launched Inbox, its most recent email app from the Gmail team, it touted the app’s ability to act almost like an assistant. Now, a year later, Google is making the app more like an aide than ever.
The company will soon be rolling out a new feature called “Smart Reply,” which uses artificial intelligence to suggest replies for your messages. The feature will be coming to Inbox’s iOS and Android apps later this week, according to the company.
The Smart Reply feature works a bit like predictive text in keyboard apps, except that it predicts phrases you’re most likely to use when replying to messages. The feature will show up to three short sentences based on the message and how people have responded to similar emails in the past.
“For those emails that only need a quick response, it can take care of the thinking and save precious time spent typing. And for those emails that require a bit more thought, it gives you a jump start so you can respond right away,” software engineer Bálint Miklós writes.
Behind the scenes, the feature took quite a bit of engineering to get it working, Miklós, explains. It uses machine learning techniques to surface relevant responses in realtime. As with other tools that use natural language technology, Smart Replies should improve over time as people use the feature more. He notes that when they first began testing it, a commonly suggested reply was “I love you,” which is probably not appropriate for most work-related correspondence. (He promises that reply suggestions have been tweaked to be more SFW.)
If you want a closer look at the technology behind it, Google also published a lengthy post on its research blog detailing the process.
It’s still early so it’s difficult to say how big of an impact the feature will have on Inbox and how people respond to email, but it offers an enticing look into how Google is using artificial intelligence to make some of the most mundane tasks we do every day — like answering emails — a little easier.