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Google Builds an AI Boost Into Gmail, Docs, Slides, Sheets

Only Google-approved testers can try it out for now, though.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Gmail, Google's ubiquitous email service
James Martin/CNET

With a feature called Duet AI for Google Workspace, Google has begun building new artificial intelligence technology into some of its most widely used tools.

With Duet AI for Gmail and Docs, you'll be able to let Google draft emails or word processing documents based on short text prompts, Google said Wednesday at its Google I/O developer conference. Chief Executive Sundar Pichai demonstrated the "Help me write" feature with a response to an airline's customer service message, first with a terse reply then a more verbose alternative designed to appear more serious.

"Just type in the prompt of what you want in an email to ask for a full refund, hit Create, and a full draft appears. It conveniently pulled in flight details from the previous email," Pichai said at the conference. "In this case, a more elaborate email might increase the chances of getting the refund."

Text prompts also will construct a spreadsheet in Google Sheets -- for example, a pet service provider's chart to track customers and their dogs. And to spice up presentations, Google slides will be able to generate images based on text prompts.

The features exemplify what's possible with modern "generative" AI, which brings a new creative element to machine learning technology that's been under heavy development for the last decade. Generative AI, most prominently OpenAI's ChatGPT, has fired the imaginations of people using it creatively or productively, for writing poetry, for instance, or programming. Generative AI also has struck fear into school administrators, who expect a new era of cheating, and it's caused worries that computers will wipe out white-color jobs, like tax advisors or paralegal assistants.

Google's new tools aren't yet available, but Google opened a Workspace Labs waitlist where you can sign up. The company has increased the number of "trusted testers" trying out the products since it first began talking about them in March.

google-ai-help-me-write

Google CEO Sundar Pichai shows off an AI-powered "Help me write" feature coming to Gmail and Google Docs that can turn a text prompt like "write a thank-you note" or "write a textile designer job description" into a draft document.

Google

"We've been absolutely blown away by the really interesting and clever or creative things that people are doing with this feature," said Aparna Pappu, general manager of the Google Workspace productivity tools, in a briefing about the features. That includes writing a job application, reference letters, essays, and formal thank-you notes for after a job interview.

The "duet" label shows how tech companies are positioning AI as an assistant to boost what you do, like autocorrect or grammar check on steroids. Indeed, Google rival Microsoft calls its own AI-boosted productivity tools Microsoft 365 Copilot. Like Duet AI, Copilot is in limited testing.

Google plans to let people roll the dice a little bit with "Help me write," Pappu added, with a new version of the "I'm feeling lucky" button that's for years added a little spontaneous randomness to the company's search engine.

"When you try that, sometimes you get a haiku, sometimes you get an email in a pirate voice," she said. "It's just a little bit of fun."