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Google's G Suite adds new AI and security tools

At the Google Cloud Next conference, the search giant debuts new features for apps like Google Docs, as well as new call center tech.

Diane Greene, leader of Google's cloud division.

Diane Greene, leader of Google's cloud division.

Google

Google is trying to entice more people to use its services in the workplace.

On Tuesday, the search giant announced several updates to G Suite, its set of apps that resemble Google Docs and Sheets but are tailored for the office. The company made the announcement during its annual Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco.

One new feature is an investigation tool that gives administrators more control over cybersecurity issues. For example, if there's been a breach, an admin can see what users might have been affected or if any information has been shared externally. The tool also lets admins revoke access to certain drives and take action without sifting through security logs.

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Google is also adding the ability for companies to choose where their data is physically stored, whether in the United States, Europe or distributed around the globe.

Another new feature uses Google's artificial intelligence tools to bring grammar suggestions to Google Docs. The software will be able to recognize errors, like when you should use "an" instead of "a," or suggest how to use a subordinate clause correctly. The new feature is available for G Suite's Early Adopter Program, for users to test updates.

Other new features let employees use AI to help write messages and replies. Smart Reply, a tool that uses machine learning to automatically compose messages in email, is coming to Google's Hangouts Chat app. Another feature, called Smart Compose, helps to autofill longer emails that require more than just a dashed off reply. Google CEO Sundar Pichai first introduced it at the company's I/O conference in May. At the time, it was meant for regular Gmail users, but the feature is coming to business customers.

"Security is the No. 1 worry. And AI is the No. 1 opportunity," Diane Greene, head of Google Cloud, said during the Next keynote presentation on Tuesday. "We're incorporating the power of AI into everything you do." 

Google said it now has 4 million paying businesses using G Suite. During an earnings call Monday, Pichai announced some new customers for its cloud division, a win for the growing organization, which now brings in more than $1 billion a quarter. The new customers include Domino's Pizza, SoundCloud and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Target is also moving "key areas" of its business to Google's cloud, Pichai said.

AI controversies

Google's cloud division has also drawn controversy, however. Outside of building workplace versions of apps like Gmail or Drive, Google also licenses its AI technology to other businesses.

Under Greene, the division has gone after lucrative military contracts. But employees have challenged the company's decision to take part in Project Maven, a US Defense Department initiative aimed at developing better artificial intelligence for the military. Googlers were divided over their employer's role in helping develop technology that could be used in warfare. More than 4,000 employees reportedly signed a petition addressed to Pichai demanding the company cancel the project. Last month, Google said it wouldn't renew the Maven contract or pursue similar contracts.

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Soon after, Pichai released ethical guidelines regarding the company's development of AI. He said Google wouldn't create technology that would be used for weapons, but he said Google would still pursue work with the military.

Google Cloud has had other challenges recently. The platform experienced problems last week, causing outages for Google Cloud Networking, App Engine and Stackdriver. Apps like Snapchat, Pokemon Go and Spotify, which use Google's cloud platform to help run their services, were also affected. 

On Tuesday, Google also unveiled new artificial intelligence technology for call centers. The software, which it calls Contact Center AI, is designed to talk to humans over the phone. The technology is bound to draw comparisons to Duplex, the controversial AI tool Google announced in May. Duplex is designed to book restaurant reservations, hair appointments and the like, as well as check business hours and such, using an eerily human-sounding voice. 

Google was quick to emphasize the distance between the two products.

"While Contact Center AI and the recently announced Duplex share some underlying components, they have distinct technology stacks and aims overall," Fei-Fei Li, Google's chief scientist for AI and machine learning, said on stage.

First published July 24, 9 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:09 a.m.: Adds details from Google Cloud Next keynote.

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