Google is bringing AI chat to Gmail and Docs

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Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian speaks at the Google Cloud Next event in San Francisco on April 9, 2019.
Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google is deepening its push into generative artificial intelligence, introducing features Tuesday that will let users create text in Gmail and Docs using the company’s AI technology.

The company is testing the AI products and making them accessible for a limited number of users of Workspace, which includes Gmail and Google’s productivity tools.

“Whether you’re a busy HR professional who needs to create customized job descriptions, or a parent drafting the invitation for your child’s pirate-themed birthday party, Workspace saves you the time and effort of writing that first version,” Johanna Voolich Wright, vice president of product for Google Workspace, wrote in a blog post. “Simply type a topic you’d like to write about, and a draft will instantly be generated for you.”

Generative AI has been the hottest topic in tech this year after San Francisco startup OpenAI introduced the ChatGPT chatbot in November and watched it quickly go viral. ChatGPT lets users ask a question or make a request and responds with answers that are surprisingly sophisticated and creative. The top technology companies are now rushing to work similar capabilities into their own products.

With Google’s test, a user can go to a text box in an email and type “draft an email to the team.” The application will spit out a three-paragraph thank-you note that the user can edit, elaborate upon or turn into a bulleted list. The user can also ask the program to try again.

Google boasts more than 3 billion users of Workspace. That includes consumers and companies, which pay for subscriptions.

Google’s top rival in the market is Microsoft 365, the productivity bundle that, until October 2022, was called Office 365. Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, will discuss AI and productivity software at an online event hosted on LinkedIn on Thursday.

A Google spokesperson told CNBC that the company is giving early access to the new features to consumers as well as some business and education users. The company didn’t say when it will release the capabilities broadly, nor did it say if the extra features will be included in existing packages or cost extra.

Google said that later this year it plans to bring out additional AI features to Workspace, including formula generation in Sheets, automatically generated images in Slides and note-taking in Meet.

The company recently instituted a “code red” alert for employees to respond to ChatGPT. Last month, Google said it will add AI features to its dominant internet search engine. Separately on Tuesday, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said the company has started testing a service for building corporate chatbots. The cloud business includes Workspace.

“We’re so excited by the potential of generative AI, and the opportunities it will unlock,” Kurian wrote. Kurian said the technology will help people express themselves, enable developers to build new kinds of software, and change how people interact businesses and governments.

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