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How is Allo and what it means to Messaging and AI Industry?

Hira Saeed, @heerasaeed
09.29.16
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We all understand how advancement in AI is fueling the development of chatbots, there are many companies that are now using messaging interface and chatbots to carry out number of tasks, from booking a ticket, reporting a weather, buying flowers, making a website or even just to engage potential customers when they can't fall asleep.

With the launch of Allo, Google has stepped into the industry which is nourishing at light-speed and has turned messaging into smart messaging with an AI-powered assistant. Where Google hangout is specifically for the productivity and enterprise use, Allo is the consumer product that is now being called a conversational version of Google Now. The application has grabbed the attention of consumers by its Google assistant that talks to you about anything and brings up answers within the chat, so yes, you don't have to leave the window just to ask "Who Is Stephen Hawking?". For now, both Smart Reply and Google Assistant are in English-only and will be available soon in multiple languages making it easy for the whole world to talk to the assistant but their algorithm is smart enough to suggest replies in the Roman version that people usually use.

The integration of a virtual assistant or a chatbot within the messaging platform has set another "keep your conversation going" trend in the industry. The pillar was set by Slack, Kik and Facebook, by allowing businesses to add their own chatbot within the platform and now Google has upraised it by introducing its own app with an AI-powered assistant. Who knows there will be a time when you'll ask Google assistant to book your flight and also add your own custom and group-based chatbot that will do everything in a jiffy.

Will it make you ditch WhatsApp and iMessage?

When you install Allo, it gives you the same impression of just another messaging app. The interface has nothing exceptional that will make you awe-struck and have all the general features like sharing text, pictures, videos, location and like new iMessage update, you can share Gifs as well. The first good thing is that you won't be a loner even if none of your friends have joined it yet. You can still talk to the assistant which is there by default. So what is there to make you leave your favorite messaging app that you've been using for years? The first thing you'll observe during your first chat is the Smart reply feature that suggests replies during the conversation which has never been seen up till now in any of the apps we use. You also don't have to leave the app to decide which restaurant you would like to go to. It's there within the chat if you address Google assistant with a "@google" prefix to your message. So all in all, the thing that would make you turn your head and compel you to ditch your favorite messaging app is the touch of Artificial Intelligence which none of them currently serve, unlike Facebook M which also isn't live yet.

How much AI is involved?

By leveraging its core strength of search results, Google assistant understands everything and brings up results by searching its data. Nothing exceptional here because this is what Google is best at. The highlighted part here is that it's assistant learns from conversations, understands the context and suggests replies based on the message received. The "Smart replies" would be an "I love you too" in reply to a message of "I love you". It also reads photos and suggests a reply of "Cute" when your friend sends you a picture of his puppy. After a while, by understanding your conversation style, it suggests replies in the roman version of your language. Another great feature is that your assistant can become as intelligent as you make it, you can tell it the name of your best friend, new client and it remembers unless you ask it to forget. Try telling it "Please remember, John's birthday is on 20th April" and ask again "When is john's birthday" on which you get the correct answer. You can ask it to remind you about the meeting, your medicine time and everything that you tend to forget usually.

Can "Such AI" be Evil?

Yes, I remember the movies where a programmed robot equipped with machine-learning tries to kill the person who created it. I found it equally creepy and if you have same concerns with Google Allo's AI, you are not skeptic for the wrong reasons because this was the biggest hurdle Allo faced to convince people that its intelligence is not evil. Google has already started to make efforts to address people's concerns on this issue. With its incognito chat option, Google allows users to opt for end-to-end encryption that also hides message preview on the screen. Whereas in default chat, the Messages sent are encrypted, but don't use end-to-end encryption. By introducing what matters and to which extent, Google will win people's hearts and give them a hint that this is what the future comprises of.

There is no second thought in the fact that Google has hit the nail on the head by incorporating the one "feature" that it's known for – proper use of data and information. However, Google has to keep making constant changes to keep up with what we want in a messaging app. To make it a fancy platform for developers and to out beat Siri and Viv, third party integration is needed where developers can integrate their own platforms with Allo and take control in their hands to make it the biggest player in the industry. This and much more needs to be done because J.A.R.V.I.S is already coming soon to (anticipatedly) set a benchmark of what Artificial Intelligence can do.

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