Hot on the heels of the arrival of Google Bard, the tech giant’s answer to artificially intelligent internet darling of the moment ChatGPT, Google is bringing a new AI-powered feature to Gmail on Android devices - the ability to ask an AI to write an email for you.
The way this will work is pretty straightforward: a new icon (a wand with sparkles, because AI is simply magical) will take you to a text box, where you can type in a short prompt that Gmail’s generative AI will use to produce an email. If your prompt is too short, Gmail will suggest that you ‘Keep writing to create a preview.’ Once the bot is happy with your prompt, you can hit ‘Create’ and boom, your email is written.
Google is also working on a ‘Refine my message’ option, which will allow you to ask the AI assistant to edit an email you’ve already written. For example, you can ask it to shorten a message for brevity’s sake, or automatically ‘formalize’ it with more professional language. Amusingly, there are also plans for an ‘I’m feeling lucky’ option, which, uh… I don’t know why you’d want to randomly generate an email to someone, but sure.
With ChatGPT coming to Microsoft 365 after its initial integration into Microsoft’s Bing search engine, Google is clearly worried about being on the back foot in the AI arms race. As such, Bard will be coming to Docs too - though it looks like Google is taking a marginally more cautious approach than Microsoft, which may be wise given how poorly Bard’s initial showing went.
If you’re interested in testing out Bard for yourself, you can sign up to take it for a test drive. Unlike ChatGPT, Google’s chatbot is currently in semi-open beta, so you will need to sit on the waiting list for a bit before you can jump in.
Opinion: This isn’t needed, and it’s infuriating that Google doesn’t seem to care
If you’ve read any of my other articles recently, you’ll probably be aware that I’m a bit of an AI skeptic. The topic of AI is already a very divisive one, and the rise of powerful tools like GPT-4 threatens to cost people their jobs. Here’s the thing, though: I genuinely do believe that there are use cases for machine-learning software. We’ve seen AI used to do incredible things, like helping the blind see and clearing plastics from our oceans.
Using AI for creative endeavors is much more of a grey area. If we push AI tech to produce more and more content for entertainment purposes, be that writing, art, or videos, we run the risk of flooding the internet with AI-generated content and creating a feedback loop with diminishing returns.
Are emails a creative endeavor? Sort of. You need to be able to write; I’m sure many of us have shaken our heads in exasperation upon receiving a horribly written, badly formatted email from a professional contact. The arrival of Gmail’s AI assistant on Android could finally banish bad emails from our inboxes - but it poses the risk of creating entirely different problems.
In our hands-on time with Google Bard, we were impressed by its capabilities but had to call into question its accuracy and lack of citations. This could be the tip of the iceberg; if we all start making Gmail’s AI write our emails for us, then we could find ourselves tumbling down a rabbit hole of chatbots replying to chatbots, a situation almost guaranteed to cause conversational devolution leading to miscommunication, confusion, and upset.
This is my actual concern, and I feel it’s a valid one. We’ve already seen the failings of AI, and the ways in which human users can and will abuse it. But it wasn’t actually my first thought when I saw this news. The very first thing I thought was this: why the hell do we need AI to write emails for us?!
It’s rant time, folks. I mean, come on. Are we really so lazy and incapable as a species that we desperately need a machine to help us talk to each other? How long does it take to write an email?! Even if you’re planning to write a lengthy missive that the AI could produce a lot faster, that just means you’re probably getting into the specifics of something important and you’re gonna need to spend your valuable time carefully engineering that prompt to ensure nothing gets left out!
I’m sorry, but this is just dumb. Nobody really needs a chatbot to write emails for them. Get in the sea, Google.