In February, Microsoft introduced new versions of the Bing search engine and the Edge browser that are powered by the ChatGPT AI. Days later, Google debuted its own conversational AI model called Bard. It was the start of an AI race that will go down in history.
Google came out strong last week with a slew of AI announcements across several platforms and business units. Here I'll focus on a development that has the potential to change how people work, collaborate and communicate: a new set of generative AI features for Google Workspace (which was formerly called G Suite).
Google Workspace's "collaborative partner"
In its announcement, Google introduced AI-powered writing features to help Workspace users be more productive, creative and collaborative. In this vein, Google refers to the AI as a "collaborative partner." As with other AI-powered productivity chatbots, it works alongside users to make suggestions, surface insights, summarize content and more. The collaborative partner—which I really think needs a name that makes it easy to reference, like Microsoft's Copilot—will initially be rolled out to “trusted users” of Google Docs and Gmail.
In Gmail, the Workspace AI can automatically organize your inbox, summarize threads and help compose emails and responses. I find Gmail to be very intuitive as it is, so organizing and sorting threads is a relatively simple exercise. Still, I imagine the less tech-savvy would welcome accomplishing a task by giving a command to a chatbot. Summarizing conversations and suggesting responses based on the information within the emails is a superpower that I think everyone could benefit from. Of course, the suggestions are bound to be flawed (especially in the early days), so evaluation and refinement by the user will be necessary. You and the AI will work together to get it done; after all, it's a collaborative partner.
In Docs, the AI helps brainstorm, proofread, write and rewrite. This could be a game changer for those prone to writer's block, or who are short on time. As with any AI, there must be responsible guidelines around the use of AI to create “original” content in journalism, schools and similar settings. But harnessing the power of a "collaboration partner" should help computers and humans work together to elevate the outputs of both.
Google demoed functionality for other apps (as addressed below), but it did not specify when the AI collaborative partner would roll out to other parts of Workspace beyond Docs and Gmail.
The future for an AI-powered Workspace
As a longtime user of Workspace and an observer of how others use it in the workplace, I know that getting the most out of Slides can be a chore for someone who isn't naturally creative. The AI-assisted Slide creator demo addressed this challenge by showing how a user can create auto-generated images and insert audio and video.
Sheets is another tool where I can see users benefiting from having an AI collaborator. For the spreadsheet-timid, the AI can help generate formulas, categorize data contextually and transform raw data into insights and analysis. This could save a lot of time and frustration for budgeting or planning for someone outside of a finance function.
For Chat, the AI will help write messages and responses and summarize notes in Chat Spaces. Within large organizations, surfacing unanswered questions, action items, invitations and the like would be a possible and beneficial functionality once rolled out. We use chat as the corporate chat function at Moor Insights & Strategy, and I am excited to use the improved AI-infused part of it. I hope it shows up earlier than threaded conversations that still aren’t enabled and many Webex Chat users enjoy.
The meeting killer
In Google Meet, the AI will help attendees stay focused by taking notes and capturing details such as action items and follow-ups. For non-attendees, the AI can summarize the meeting to keep people in the loop, thereby reducing the number of meetings people must attend. Considering how the volume of video meetings has mushroomed since the start of the pandemic, I think this could be extremely useful for productivity. It will allow workers to be fully engaged and present when needed in a meeting, or quickly kept in the loop when not present or deemed "optional."
Control of content and data governance
Google's AI-powered Workspace tools give users control of both content and administrative power. This means that AI-generated content is easily edited, accepted or changed for users, even to suggest a lighter tone or a more formal approach. For IT, administrative power allows organizations to set custom policies to protect user data privacy and maintain customer controls for data governance.
The AI race has been heating up as the industry titans continue to announce developments. However, Google seems to be taking a steady, measured approach in rolling out features to the public. So, while the company continues to showcase its advancements in AI in preview, the tools are available only to "trusted users" for now, with no date yet given for general availability.
Google's broader vision for the future of Workspace is very well thought out, as is the company's approach to fine-tuning the model via increasing user feedback and data before general availability. Concentrating on Workspace rather than search to launch its AI advancements allows Google to work out the kinks in the technology without jeopardizing its ad revenue.
I am interested to see if and how the company’s homegrown TPU plays a part in the equation. The company says, “Cloud TPU v4 Pods can run large-scale training workloads, up to 80% faster and up to 50% cheaper than alternatives.” You can imagine how powerful that could be if it applies to the workloads above.
I'm thoroughly impressed by the capabilities Google showcased in demos of the Workspace AI “collaborative partner.” I'm simultaneously disappointed in its limited availability (although clearly, I understand the reasoning) and curious about its pricing model, given recent increases to monthly Workspace subscription prices without AI. I'm champing at the bit to try out all the capabilities, and I look forward to continuing to watch the AI race unfold.
Note: This analysis contains content from Moor Insights & Strategy CEO and Chief Analyst Patrick Moorhead.