A Geek in Paradise: Google I/O 2018

TELUS Employee
TELUS Employee

Hey! It’s Marc from the device acquisition team back again to report on my annual pilgrimage to Mountain View, CA for Google I/O 2018.


Last year I spoke about a few of Google’s forward-thinking initiatives and I’m happy to report that Google is doubling down on their vision for the future. For 2018 and beyond, I see Google making 3 big bets; some are short term plays but many have a larger, longer term vision behind them and I’ll touch upon all of them. First, how does a techhead pack appropriately for such an event . . .




An Evolution in Strategy


Those of us following Google’s growth over the past several years will have seen a clear shift in the company’s strategy to move out of the web 2.0 era with a cloud-first view, followed by a mobile-first outlook, and finally to an artificial intelligence (AI) first mentality. This year they’re doubling down on their investments in AI by growing from an AI first view to one that offers AI everywhere!


Virtually every product or services discussed this year took that to heart.  Whether it was Google Assistant coming to Android Auto, the inclusion of Google lens in your camera app or the introduction of Smart Reply to help compose emails with the mere click of a button, AI was everywhere. There were so many updates and so much to talk about but I’ll focus on one significant announcement from each of 3 key categories.  






Google has made a habit of using I/O to reveal new hardware. This year’s newest announcement was smart displays - think Google Home but add a touchscreen to it as another way to consume content. Google has partnered with companies like LG, Lenovo, and JBL to have smart displays ready for customers by this July. These smart displays will allow users to play music, make video calls, watch YouTube videos and look at photos, all using voice controls.  


“Hey Google. Show me videos of birds chasing people.”




Google made an mind-blowing reveal that has been making some people question how far to go with AI and how much transparency is required. Google Duplex is an extension to Google Assistant that can place outbound voice calls to book appointments and reservations on your behalf.  And it’s good...scary good!


Take a look at Google’s AI having a real conversation with a local hair salon as it attempts to schedule a haircut on the users behalf.



Before we flip out into a tech-phobic rage, Google has since advised us that Duplex will disclose, to the person on the receiving end, that it is an AI calling on behalf of a customer. While we seem ever closer to AI passing the turing test, we are still far from the Skynet future. This feature of Google Assistant is likely several years aways from being part of your next Android update, but this demonstration provides a glimpse into a future where many of the low lift tasks we perform regularly, like making a dinner reservation or booking a hair appointment, can be managed by AI, leaving us to focus on other “life” stuff.


“Hey Google. Call that fancy Italian restaurant on Water street and book a reservation for two for one for 6pm.”






Google is working on some amazing initiatives in the health space to help us all live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. Quite often the work being done in the medical diagnostic sector doesn’t see much love in the media; however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t significant strides being made. One area where Google is making a difference is in diabetic retinopathy (DR). DR is the fastest growing cause of blindness, with nearly 415 million diabetic patients at risk worldwide. If caught early, the disease can be treated; if not, it can lead to irreversible blindness. Unfortunately we do not have enough specialists in the right places around the world to ensure everyone can be tested.


This is where Google, while working closely with Doctors,  have been able to train their AI to identify at-risk patients with an accuracy of ~95%. This result outperformed the results of a group of ophthalmologists who reviewed the same dataset (~91%). Automated DR screening methods are not intended to replace doctors but instead assist them in evaluating more patients and quickly referring those who need help to a specialist.


While Google announced many updates, enhancements and new toys at I/O this year, I believe the above gives you an overview about how Google is turning their vision of AI first into something that can improve the lives of everyone, not just those of us using Android smartphones and devices.


What was our favourite announcement from Google I/O?  What are your thoughts on Google Duplex? Has it left you feeling the ‘Uncanny Valley’?  Leave your comments down below and let me know what you think.


If you missed the I/O 2018 Keynote speech, catch it here




Meet Marc, Product Manager supporting new technology on the device acquisitions team. When he's not scoping out the latest tech trends, he's a full time dad and avid gamer.