Google's AI Coworker Could Be Your New Favorite Teammate (or Office Nemesis)

Commentary: Let's hope this Gemini-powered virtual colleague doesn't become the micromanager from hell.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Google wants to help companies increase head count -- with AI coworkers.

Google/Screenshot by CNET

How many times have you been so busy at work that you feel like you need to split yourself in two to get everything done? Google has a solution, and -- surprise, surprise -- it has nothing to do with hiring more people.

At Google I/O, the company's annual developer conference, it outlined its vision for an AI coworker, who may well be your next new teammate. Powered by Gemini, Google's own AI program, this virtual teammate would take on some of the burdensome tasks that you and your real-life coworkers must complete as you work collaboratively on projects.

It's generally considered good manners (and HR policy) to use your colleagues' preferred names. But when it comes to your new virtual coworker, you can choose a moniker to give them. Maybe avoid using anything profane or picking the name of your CEO if you want to stay out of trouble, but otherwise it's time to get creative. For its demo, Google opted for the short, sweet and, well, chipper, choice of Chip.

AI Atlas tag

Google outlined its vision for virtual teammates by showing how it had given Chip its own Google profile, and how Chip can be assigned to a specific role within a team. Chip can then lurk in your various group chats, gathering information so that when you have a specific query -- for example, Is someone ordering donuts for the launch party? -- it'll be able to provide you with the answer. Over time, as Chip is added to more group chats and files, it can build up an understanding of a project's progress, as well as flag potential issues that may arise.

At first glance this all sounds very helpful -- after all, project management can be tricky. But this level of scrutiny over your work also could get annoying, as anyone who's ever been micromanaged will know. Who dropped the ball? Chip will know. Who didn't pull their weight? Chip will know. And why did the team choose to ignore the red flag that Chip raised two months ago? Suddenly Chip has gone from being your most helpful teammate to the reason for your next negative performance review. Who knows whether Chip will have any empathy for the headache you had that day? But if I had to say, I'd guess not.

Then again, the idea of having a Chip to whom you could outsource busy work -- creating documents synthesizing information, for example -- is appealing. This is the kind of work that can suck up hours of your day, and that isn't a productive use of anyone's time. Whether Chip would be your new work bestie or your office nemesis is still unclear. Let's hope that if and when Google's vision for a virtual coworker rolls out to your company, it results in less stress for you, and not more.