Thursday 15 June 2017
You might have noticed something interesting in your Gmail account recently. Your canned responses are getting... smarter.
What's a canned response, I hear you ask? Don't worry - you're not alone in asking that question.
Time poor email users have, for a number of years, been relying on canned responses to make their email messaging more efficient. Rather than hand crafting each reponse, they choose to instead send a formulaic, and normally quite generic reply, that can be activated through the click of a button. You might have done something similiar using SMS when a call comes through on your mobile and you're already on the line; sending a canned response such as "On the phone, I'll call you right back".
Now, it's old news that Google's spiders crawl your email content in order to serve you relevant advertising, but this technology has more recently been adapted by Google to suggest canned responses to your email content. In the example below, we can see how Google's spiders have identified that the email indicates that the sender is on holiday (despite, you'll notice, not once using the word "holiday" in the email's content) and has provided three canned reponse buttons to reply with.
Where does machine learning come into this? Google's engine bases these responses on previous replies to similar emails. They'll have scanned millions, probably billions of emails, and identified response patterns that are then translated into the 3 canned response buttons at the bottom of the email.
Of course, the flipside to this convenience is that it prevents us from having to actually think through a response, or interact with the individual in question (in this case, mum) in any meaningful way. This superficial but convenient autopilot comes at the expense of deeper human connections, and provides us with the amusing future scenario of entire canned response conversations, where users engage with each other purely through the click of a button, trusting in Google to put words in their mouths.
Well, I say amusing. Maybe scary is the right word. Watch this space folks - you have been warned.