As a joke during the Google I/O 2023 Keynote, I suggested to the guys here in the office that our entire watch party on Discord should do a shot every time Google said AI during the presentation. It’s a very good thing that we were only kidding, since Google used the term in every possible scenario during the entire 2-hour keynote to make it clear that they’ve involved AI in their own products for quite some time now. I won’t tell you how many times it was said (we’re running a fun little poll over on Twitter about it right now), but it’s enough times that we all would have 100% regretted the decision to make a drinking game out of it.
During our searching for the term “AI” in Google’s keynote video, I also wondered whether or not they mentioned the Google Assistant at any point. After all, the Google Assistant has been front-and-center for years at this point with Google’s overarching messaging, so I’d imagine it was talked about a little bit, right? And even though I couldn’t recall hearing during the 2-hours we sat and watched Google’s painfully-long presentation, I wasn’t prepared for the actual result.
Google didn’t mention the Assistant even once this year
Yeah…awkward. I figured there were a few mentions at some point in the presentation that I likely missed, but as I originallly thought, there wasn’t a single utterance of “Google Assistant” anywhere during the keynote. How is that possible?
With Bard, AI, and ChatGPT at the forefront of everyone’s minds at this point, I’m not actually shocked by this. After all, we already know that Google is moving resources from Google Assistant over to Bard and that Google’s support is being pulled from 3rd-party Smart Displays (one of the most visual places the Assistant lives). Knowing this, we already felt the move away from Google Assistant in the air.
Now it feels like a hard reality. For reference, Google mentioned Google Assistant 36 times last year at I/O, a time long before AI chatbots were pop-culture phenomena. This year, as that number hits absolute zero, I have to wonder if we’re coming up on the end of the Google Assistant as we know it.
What once was the darling of Google’s eye – especially in the consumer space – has become an afterthought in just a few month’s time. And as staggering as that might sound, it makes perfect sense. What people wanted from the Google Assistant or Alexa was not just task management; they wanted the Ironman/Jarvis experience. And for all the features Google gave the Assistant from a conversational point, they simply pale in comparison to ChatGPT or Bard.
And that’s the problem. I’m unsure what parts of Bard will or won’t merge with other parts of the Google Assistant, but it’s clearly coming. While I don’t forsee a future where Bard is baked into all the spots Google Assistant is right now, I think a future where Bard’s abilities are given to the Assistant makes a lot of sense.
Imagine the voice models of the Google Assistant given the conversational abilities of Bard. It would be pretty mind-bending to speak to your smart speaker or display and have a conversation like what we see with Bard or ChatGPT. It would be next-level for sure, and probably would make people actually use the Assistant (imbued with Bard’s conversational abilities, of course) on a far more regular basis.
But that future is uncertain, and with the way things are moving right now, I don’t even know if there’s a real way to predict what will shake out with all of this. AI is clearly Google’s focus right now and how it ends up affecting their core products in a million different ways is yet to be determined. For the time being, however, that focus shift seems to have left Google Assistant behind, and I’m unsure how it will recover when the dust settles.