Google I/O 2018: Expect Google to Flex Its AI Muscle


For Google, its annual I/O developer conference isn’t just a place to show off the next major version of Android and get coders excited about building apps. Though that stuff is a big part of the show, I/O is also a chance for Google to flex its AI muscle and emphasize its massive reach at a time when every major tech company is racing to best each other in artificial intelligence. And with its emphasis on cloud-based software and apps, I/O is the most important event of the year for Google—as least as long as its hardware efforts are still such a small fraction of its overall business.

WIRED will be on the ground covering it, but until Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicks off the keynote Tuesday May 8 at 10 am Pacific, here’s an idea of what to expect.

Android P Is For … Probably?

Just like every year, Android will be front and center at the 2018 edition of IO. It’s almost a guarantee that we’ll see a new version of Android P, which was first released as a developer preview in March.

So far, we know that a lot of the changes from Android O to P have been visual in nature; notifications have been redesigned, and the quick settings menu has gotten a refresh. There’s also been a lot of chatter around “Material Design 2,” the next iteration of Google’s unifying design language. Material Design was first unveiled at I/O four years ago, so it’s quite possible we’ll see the next version’s formal unveiling this week. Newly redesigned Chrome tabs have already been spotted as part of a possible Material Design refresh, along with references to a “touch optimized” Chrome.

Chrome OS has been an increasingly critical part of Google’s overall platform strategy, while at the same time there’s been a lingering will-they-or-won’t-they question about the merging of Android with Chrome OS. So far, the unification of the two operating systems has been as elusive as Google’s current strategy around its messaging apps. But at the very least, there will be some developer sessions dedicated to Chrome OS, including one that will “provide guidance on adapting your Android apps to work great on ChromeOS.”

Talkin’ About AI

But artificial intelligence, more than Android and Chrome OS, is likely to be the thread that weaves every platform announcement at I/O together; whether that’s in consumer-facing apps like Google Assistant and Google Photos, cloud-based machine learning engines like TensorFlow (there will be multiple developers sessions on this), or even keynote mentions of AI’s impact on jobs.

Speaking of Google Assistant, late last week Google shared some notable updates around the voice-powered digital helper, which now runs on more than 5,000 devices and even allows you to purchase Fandango tickets with your voice. That’s all well and fun, but one of the most critical aspects of any virtual assistant (in addition to compatibility) is how easy it is to use. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see Google taking steps to make Assistant that much more accessible, whether that’s through software changes, like “slices” of Assistant content that shows up outside of the app, or hardware changes that involve working with OEM partners to offer more quick-launch solutions.

Smart Home, Even Smarter VR/AR

Since Nest was merged with Google’s hardware team this past February, it’s safe to say we won’t be hearing any exciting “Works with Nest” updates at I/O this year. But while Nest and Google were operating awkwardly side by side, Google was establishing itself firmly in the home with Chromecast dongles and Google Home speakers. It’s also been working with other companies, like Lenovo, to make “smart displays,” and there here have been suggestions that Google is building its own version of a smart display.

This might be wishful thinking, but it’s possible we could hear more on that. At the very least, expect some iterations on the platform side of the smart home that would tee things up for a much bigger Google hardware launch in the fall.

In terms of VR and AR, the most interesting announcements this year may end up being around AR. Google’s first standalone Daydream VR headset, the Lenovo Mirage Solo, launched last week, so Google may either use this year’s I/O as an opportunity to let the masses try that one on for size, or tease out other Daydream-powered headsets that haven’t started shipping yet.

But this is also the first Google I/O at which ARCore, Google’s framework for mobile AR, will be a fully baked product, not a hardware-limited Tango thing. And Google has been working on some interesting tech around AR and visual search. Basically, all of this will determine whether we spend a good chunk of I/O this year with our heads in headsets, or with them buried in our phone screens. Who we are kidding: we’ll probably do both.

Google’s day-one keynote kicks off tomorrow, Tuesday May 8, at 10 am Pacific time, so be sure to come back to WIRED for live coverage. You can also watch the keynote live here on WIRED.

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