Google’s “Reply” System Could Reportedly Text Your Friends Back For You & It’s NOT A Black Mirror Episode
If you no longer want to expend energy engaging with the petty humans you call "friends," don't worry: There's an app for that. Or, well, there's a feature for that. A Google feature, to be specific. Simply called Reply, the in-development, artificial intelligence-based system is currently cooking in Google’s experimental product lab, Area 120, reported The Guardian. If or when released (which it may never be), it will be able to read your incoming chat messages and suggest one-tap replies for you to send. A spokesperson for Google tells Bustle that Reply is "one of the many projects we're working on within Area 120" and confirmed that the system would suggest "smart replies in notifications" of different messaging apps. "Like all other projects within Area 120, it's a very early experiment so there aren't many details to share right now," the spokesperson continued.
Folks who use Gmail and/or Google-developed chat app Allo have already experienced a version of Reply. Smart responses were added to Gmail and Allo in May 2017, according to a Google blog post, offering users the ability to select pre-created replies Google generated after scanning your messages. And while in Gmail, quips like "Sounds great!" are generated in reply to emails asking if you can, for example, meet up for coffee, Reply will offer a little more.
Tech site Android Police obtained an email sent from Area 120 to Reply testers, and in the email, Area 120 indicates that new Reply options will be "a little smarter." Area 120 offers an example where Reply can generate a response to a text reading "When can you be home?" that will, based on your location information, tell the texter exactly when you'll arrive.
Other Reply elements revealed in Area 120's email include a Do Not Disturb function, where, when you're driving, the Reply AI will "silence your phone and tell people who message you that you can't chat right now," Android Police reported. Another feature involves the flip side of that, where Reply will notify you of messages it deems "urgent," even if your phone is on silent. Reply will also offer a pumped-up vacation responder, where the Reply AI will be able to check your calendar and tell people whether you're working.
The feature will roll out with Android users first, and will be available on apps including Hangouts, Allo, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Android Messages, Skype, Twitter DMs, and Slack, according to Android Police. Google has not yet indicated if users of these apps will be able to choose not to use Reply, but considering users can turn the Smart Reply feature off in Gmail, it's likely there will be an opt-out option.
A Google representative told TechCrunch that "Like all other projects within Area 120, [Reply is] a very early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now." That also means there's no official projected release date, and no confirmation that Reply will actually hit the market. However, "Smart Reply has become one of the most useful features in Gmail," according to TechCrunch, so it's not a stretch to assume at least some version of Reply will become available in Google's services in the future.
All snark aside, there are benefits to unplugging (and letting a chat bot answer your texts for you). And if you're someone who regularly transitions from using Slack at work to using Hangouts to chat with friends when you're home, it can be easy to find yourself with chat fatigue, and having an AI to suggest quick responses when you just don't have the brain juice to hold up a conversation can be legitimately helpful. But as The Guardian points out, "at some stage it’ll just be robots talking to robots."
Letting an AI handle messaging for you for a while can be the refresher you need to come back strong. But while robots talking to robots can be cute when it's Alexa and Google Home hitting it off, permanently disengaging from your chat buddies by having an AI liaise between you may not be awesome.
Whether Reply debuts or not, we're sure to see more systems implementing AI features as artificial intelligence development continues to surge, which means people will have to choose how to engage with other humans in a world becoming increasingly more machine.