Let Google Write Your Emails

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Let Google Write Your Emails

November 13, 2015

Do you get stressed about finding time to reply to all those emails in your inbox? Well, Google wants to help by replying for you.

Inbox by Google is “an organized place to get things done and get back to what matters.” It takes Gmail to the next level to help users improve productivity. With a recent update, Google Inbox introduced Smart Reply, a feature that scans your email to determine the best response. Smart Reply can be particularly beneficial for individuals that often check emails on their smartphones. It’s convenient to read emails on the go, but the small keypad makes it difficult to respond.

Smart Reply wants to make answering emails easier. Gadgets 360 reports that the new feature is “available to all consumers who use the free version of Inbox, as well as the more than 2 million businesses who pay for Google’s suite of applications designed for work.”

How Smart Reply works

Here’s a brief overview of Smart Reply:

  • Smart Reply will analyze the content of your email. If it’s an email that can be answered with a quick response, Smart Reply will use a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to come up with possible responses. If the email requires a longer response, Smart Reply can help jump start your reply.
  • You will be offered 3 reply options to choose from. Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, a Chinese web services company says, “With finite amounts of data, you can create a rudimentary understanding of the world, but humans learn about the world in all sorts of ways [we can’t yet duplicate].” AI doesn’t have the capability to always get it right the first time. That’s why you’re given 3 options.
  • Each option is between 3 and 6 words. Short replies are often generic enough to work. When it comes to a reply that needs more than 6 words, people feel that the response elicits a more personal touch.
  • According to Alex Gawley, the product manager for Gmail, Smart Reply can produce about 20,000 distinct responses.

WIRED shares an example: If someone asks, “Do you have your vacation plans set yet? When you do, can you send them along?” Potential replies include:

  • No plans yet.
  • I just sent them to you.
  • I’m working on them.

Fine tuning the technology

Smart Reply’s initial responses weren’t quite on target. With the most common response being “I love you”, the machine proved to be overly affectionate. Nicola Twilley from The New Yorker points out, “This was a touch awkward: because the model has no knowledge of the relationship between an e-mail’s sender and its receiver, it provides the same suggested responses whether you are corresponding with your boss or a long-lost sibling.”

Because technology is always being updated and improved, engineers were able to fix this bug. Another obstacle they overcame was the AI’s inclination to provide the same response worded in three different ways. However, “the team has corrected for this, to some extent, by adding a parameter that encourages the machine to choose disparate responses—ones that have sufficient distance between them when plotted as vectors in semantic space.”

Initial reactions

Greg Corrado, senior research scientist at Google, claims that Smart Reply was built to respect users’ privacy. However, others may believe that having technology scan your emails to come up with a reply is anything but private. For these individuals, it will come down to whether or not the convenience outweighs any privacy concerns.

Others may be reluctant about Smart Reply for its lack of individuality. Twilley writes, “On the other hand, I suddenly realized how easy it would be to achieve the elusive, long-dreamed-of goal of inbox zero. If only I could bring myself to cut out a few pleasantries and personal touches!!!!”

Either way, the next email reply you receive with 6 words or less may have been sent not by the recipient, but by a robot.




Soon, Gmail’s AI Could Reply to Your Email for You