Google I/O Highlights: Unpacking Gemini Updates and AI Overviews

The conference showed off AI features coming to Google Search, and Donald Glover helped debut a new generative video app called Veo.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
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Lori Grunin
4 min read
Google I/O 2024

Google found creative ways to debut its new version of Gemini, as well as other AI features.

Connie Guglielmo/CNET

At Google's annual developers conference, Google I/O, AI got a lot of mentions -- over 120, by Google's own count. There were the typical announcements of new software features the company hopes its developer community will take advantage of, and Google showed off the way it's using the tech, including AI in search and AI in Android 15 (currently in beta). 

With all the updates to its core AI tools -- Gemini, DeepMind and more -- Google CEO Sundar Pichai described this as "the Gemini era." New apps take advantage of the upgrades, such as Ask Photos, AI Overviews, Imagen 3 and a lot more.

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Just about every launch event by the major tech companies over the past year focused on how wonderful-fast-timesaving its AI models, developer tools, features and silicon are. That's a signal that AI isn't mainstream yet, and still in the major confusion phase. (We try to help demystify it all in our guide, AI Atlas.) But Google gave us 2 hours of AI and not much else.

Watch this: Everything Google Just Announced at I/O 2024

The company didn't talk about hardware at all, except for a shout out to new Trillium Tensor processors and that Nvidia's Blackwell GPUs are coming to its data centers, both in 2025. Plus, Axion TPUs are more energy efficient. It announced the Pixel 8A a week before the show.

gemini live on phone screen
Google/Screenshot by CNET

For more of a minute-by-minute experience, we've archived our live blog, and you can find all our coverage of the event at our Google I/O hub.

So what's new with Gemini?

Gemini, the company's ChatGPT competitor, has been updated to make it more conversational, have better cross-app compatibility and be smarter in general. Project Astra, "the future of AI assistants," takes advantage of Gemini to make conversation more natural and caches info for faster response. It can use the camera to respond to vocal queries based on what you're pointing at thanks to improved video processing as well.

Circle to Search, which we saw with Samsung's last flagship phone announcement, comes to Android generally. The Gemini app assistant starts the process of replacing Google Assistant, using an on-device model. Upcoming Gemini Nano is a smaller version of the model with less latency and device-specific functions, like scam warning popups mid-call.

Watch this: Google Introduces Gemini AI Upgrades to Gmail and Chat

The new Gemini mobile app in Android 15 brings Live (voice conversations with the AI), use the camera as described above, has a feature called Gems, which are sets of instructions you create that can access Google Drive to perform complex operations that you do frequently, as well as figure out the same complex research and planning tasks, such as trip booking (coming Labor Day weekend!).

AI Overviews are a pane in Search that provides AI-assisted (processed, packaged and analyzed) results of whatever you're looking for; it launches in the US this week.

Watch this: Ask Photos Uses AI to Search Your Google Gallery

Boost your image search with Ask Photos

Ask Photos can search for specific info about what's in your libraries, such as finding a particular license plate that's in there... somewhere. It can use multistep search to answer complex queries, for instance, "where are the best restaurants in Texas for an anniversary dinner," that takes into account the season -- a new AI search results page summarizes it all for you.

Ai teammate Chip on google chat

NotebookLM's new virtual assistant.

Google/Screenshot by CNET

Gemini 1.5 Pro, its analysis version, comes out of preview and will become available to Gemini Advanced subscribers and all developers: It understands images better and will double the context window from 1 million to 2 million tokens later this year. (A token is a bit of information to process, so more tokens = better.)

Your Gmail gets smarter?

In Google Workspace, Gemini 1.5 Pro becomes available in Workspace to summarize emails, as well as in Gmail on mobile. It rolls out next month to Labs users. In addition to summarizing, it can organize messages, export the data and save it as a workflow for future email (coming in the Fall). With the help of the new LearnLM model, it can help with homework, lesson planning and other education-related tasks.

Watch this: Project Astra Revealed at Google I/O

Final AI thoughts

Upgraded Imagen 3 generative AI tools, via DeepMind, have improved text understanding and better details for image generation. It also brings a music AI sandbox and more types of prompts for video -- they're available in the company's Labs' tools.

Veo is a new generative model/tool based on DeepMind for creating videos. Google trotted out actor/comedian/rapper/writer/director/producer Donald Glover to be a spokesperson for it.

Watch this: Google Introduces New AI Tools for Music, Video and Images

NotebookLM has a new "virtual teammate" you can set up to handle, for instance, summarizing all conversations to reply to specific questions. It builds a collective memory for teams, function as a project manager to create timelines and point out bottlenecks. 

Overall, the 1.5 Pro upgrade makes everything a little better. Gemini 1.5 Flash is a small version of Pro (with 1 million tokens), which is going to be coming for developers.

Editors' note: CNET used an AI engine to help create several dozen stories, which are labeled accordingly. The note you're reading is attached to articles that deal substantively with the topic of AI but are created entirely by our expert editors and writers. For more, see our AI policy.