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Google I/O 2021: Round-up of announcements made in keynote address

Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, is back this year after missing last year due to the pandemic. The event is being held virtually and live between May 18 – May 20. Here is a summary of the announcements the tech giant made in yesterday’s opening keynote address:

Android redesigned: Android 12 received a major design overhaul to the user interface. The company is calling the new design style “Material You” and it gives users more personalised control on the design elements that make up their phone screen. Android 12 will also have a privacy dashboard that gives users an overview of apps and features collecting data. The Beta version is out and the official release will roll out later this year.

Smart Canvas for Google Workspace: Google’s Workspace products: Docs, Slides, and Sheets, will be better integrated to work together and Google Meet will be available directly in all three apps to improve the collaborative experience of these products.

AI-driven upgrades to Google Maps: Google has added multiple new features to Google Maps that are driven by advances in AI. Maps will now show virtual street signs to help better navigate complicated intersections, work in many indoor locations that are hard to navigate such as transportations hubs and shopping malls, and show how busy an area is. The new routing options now allows users to choose the most fuel-efficient route, which the company claims could lead to significantly lower emissions when used at scale, or a safer route, which identifies safer routing based on road, weather and traffic conditions.

Project Starline – Google Meet of the future: Google announced that it has been working on an exciting project that stimulates the feeling of face-to-face meetings. Using high-resolution cameras and custom-built depth sensors, Google captures a person’s shape and appearance from multiple perspectives and projects them onto a light field display that makes it look like the person is sitting in front of you in three dimensions. This product is currently in operation in a few of Google’s offices but will become commercially available only in a few years.

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Password Alert: A new feature called Password Alert will let users know if any of their saved passwords have been compromised in a third-party data breach. It will also allow users to change the password of the compromised site directly on Google’s password manager. This feature will first come to Chrome on Android and will be available more widely later.

LaMDA – Language model for dialogue applications: Showcased as the company’s latest breakthrough in natural language understanding, LaMDA is capable of carrying a conversation, no matter what the subject is. Google showcased an example of LaMDA responding to questions like the planet Pluto and as a paper plane. But LaMDA is still trained only on text and Google has set its goal to train LaMDA to work on images, audio, and video as well, such that if a user describes a particular scene in a video, Google is able to take the user directly to that scene.

Auto-delete is now on by default for all activity data: Google has had an auto-delete option for web and app activity data, but now this option is turned on by default for the 2 billion Google accounts and activity data will be automatically deleted after 18 months.

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Ambitious quantum computing goals: Google hopes to create an error-corrected quantum computer, which, if successful, could have a myriad of applications including increasing battery efficiency and improved drug discovery.

Multitask Unified Model (MUM) for better searches: Google’s search engine can now understand and respond to more conversational and nuanced searches because of MUM’s language understanding capabilities.

Google Lens for education: Google has rolled out a new capability to Google Lens that combines visual translation with educational content from the web to help students find learning resources in their preferred language on the web by merely scanning a textbook problem.

Shopping through Google Lens: Google Lens can now scan your photos and help you find products and styles similar to the ones in the photo and will take you directly to the site selling them. Google also announced a Shopify integration, which lets sellers on Shopify make their products appear across search, Maps, images, Google Lens, and YouTube.

Features to Google Photos: Google revealed that there are over 4 trillion photos and videos stored on Google Photos and revealed a bunch of features that improve the photo experience. A new feature called Little Patterns will identify small, but not so easy to spot patterns in photos and make a collection out of these patterns. Google also launched a new “cinematic moments” feature that makes animated photos out of still shots. The Google Photos app on Pixel also now includes a password-protected folder that hides photos from the feed.

Wear OS + Tizen integration: Google’s Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen OS are now being combined to make a unified OS called Wear for wearables. Google claims that this new integration will deliver faster performance, longer battery life, and is better for the developer community.

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Making smartphone photography unbiased: Google has been working on building a more accurate and inclusive photography experience for people of colour. Pixel cameras will now make automatic white balance adjustments that bring out natural brown tones and prevent the over brightening and desaturation of darker skin tones.

Skin condition identification tool and other health initiatives: The company launched a new tool to identify skin conditions by taking a photo of the affected skin area. A pilot version of this tool will launch this year. Google is collaborating with Northwestern Medicine to better understand how AI can apply to the breast cancer screening process and help close the equity gap.

Digital car keys: Android 12 will support digital car keys that let you unlock cars from the phone on select Google Pixel and Samsung devices. Currently, only BMW has announced its support for this feature.

Carbon-free by 2030: Google announced that the company aims to operate on carbon-free energy, 24/7, by 2030. Google also announced that it is the first company to implement carbon intelligent load shifting across both time and place within its data centre network.

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