Google Launches Duet AI for Workspace, IBM Joins Generative AI Race with Watsonx, More News
In a week full of digital workplace announcements, last week's Google I/O conference was one of the highlights.
While much of what Google announced was focused on devices, such as the Pixel Fold folding phone, the overarching theme this year was (as expected) generative AI and what it will bring to the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's technology stack.
One significant workplace announcement in that area was the launch of Duet AI into the Workspace productivity suite.
Google has been testing generative AI in Workspace of the past few months, but Duet AI brings generative AI deeper in the workplace with its addition to Sheets, Slides and Meet. The full title of the new offering is Duet AI for Google Workspace and it offers a realistic productivity alternative to Microsoft 365 with Copilot.
The features had already been made available in preview earlier this year in the form of a tool to help customers write text in Gmail and Docs. At the time Google indicated it would be introducing generative AI to the rest of Workspace. Duet is just the next step forward.
There’s a lot in the release too. While some of this had been flagged in March, the Google I/O audience were offered a glimpse of how the different elements of Workspace would benefit. Among the major benefits, Google announced:
- Slides: Enables users to generate images through words. After typing in a text prompt, Slides will use generative AI to interpret the words and create the image. It also allows users to create backgrounds in Google Meet.
- Docs: While Docs was one of the first tools that benefited from generative AI, Duet pushes this forward by providing users with what Aparna Pappu, GM and VP at Google Workspace described as smart chips for information. These chips surface additional information like location and status, and other details that users might want to customize when creating a document.
Google is also going to add a Bard/ChatGPT-like interface into Docs which will offer more writing assistance while working in Docs. Microsoft is already offering this through Bing in the Edge sidebar, but Docs is a fundamental element of Workspace which means this feature is also likely to be brought to the rest of the suite.
Google is also bringing this experience to Gmail on mobile devices, which will allow people to draft complete responses based on a short prompt while on the go.
- Sheets:This tool had already received the generative AI treatment earlier in the year, but with Duet it gets an additional feature, notably the creation of tables. Sheets can also build personalized templates and sample content for users.
These features have already been added to the Trusted Tester program last week and they will become generally available later this year.
Google Extends Generative AI Reach Through Partnerships
Before leaving Google I/O, the company made a strategic — rather than technology — announcement that provides another window into the company's overall generative AI vision.
Google Cloud announced it is expanding its partnership program to develop a comparable market to the one Microsoft has already started building with Azure.
The partnerships aim to bring Google’s generative AI to large enterprises and will do so by expanding its relationship with three major systems integrators, notably:
- Deloitte: Google and Deloitte will use Deloitte’s established generative AI practice to bring Google Cloud’s AI capabilities and large language models (LLMs) into the enterprise.
- KPMG: According to a statement from KPMG, Google Cloud and KPMG are explaining their existing alliance to integrate Google Cloud’s generative AI technologies into the front, middle and back offices of enterprises.
- Cognizant: In a statement from Teaneck, NJ-based Cognizant, the company will expand its product offerings and resources for talent development build on Google Cloud. It will also launch several innovation hubs in key technology centers around the world.
While Google and Microsoft have been competing in the productivity space for many years, it has been unclear who will get the upper-hand with the addition of generative AI into the mix. While Microsoft has been the clear leader here, Google is rapidly gaining traction in the enterprise and partnerships like this will go a long way to helping it hold, if not gain, ground.
IBM Unveils Watsonx for Training AI with Clean Data
One of the other big announcements last week came from Armonk, New York-based IBM. Big Blue has dusted off Watson and unveiled watsonx, a new data and AI platform to help scale up advanced AI in the enterprise on a backbone of trusted data.
While generative AI capabilities have captured many of the headlines, not as much space has been devoted to the quality (or lack therein) of the data that is feeding it. IBM aims to remedy that with a new suite of tools that will fine-tune large language models as well as provide a data store and a new AI governance toolkit.
The rapid development of the new platform means there is already a waitlist for watsonx products, the first of which are expected to be generally available in July.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna unveiled the new platform at IBM’s Think conference on May 9, saying the platform will enable organizations to deploy AI models, including foundation models and machine learning capabilities, across the entire organization.
Also in the works is a GPU-as-a-service infrastructure that will support AI-intensive workloads.
"Foundation models make deploying AI significantly more scalable, affordable, and efficient," said Krishna. “We built IBM watsonx for the needs of enterprises, so that clients can be more than just users, they can become AI advantaged. With IBM watsonx, clients can quickly train and deploy custom AI capabilities across their entire business, all while retaining full control of their data."
The watsonx platform has three new product sets:
- IBM watsonx.ai: A generative enterprise studio where developers can train and test traditional machine learning and new generative AI capabilities. The studio includes a foundational model library containing large sets of enterprise data. While it will clearly be trained on language, IBM stated it will encompass other modalities including code, time-series data, tabular data, geospatial data and IT events data.
- IBM watsonx.data: A data store built on an open lakehouse architecture to manage governed data and AI workloads.
- IBM watsonx. governance: Living up to its name, this is designed to support the use of trusted AI workflows across the enterprise. It comes with new ways to protect customer privacy, proactively detect model bias and drift.
Given that this is built on Watson, this is only the start of what will be released in the coming months. IBM also indicated that watsonx will start appearing in other IBM products, including:
- Watson Code Assistant: A tool to generate code using English language commands.
- AIOps Insights: AI Operations (AIOps) will offer greater visibility into performance across IT environments.
- Watson Assistant and Watson Orchestrate: Using an NLP foundation it promises to enhance productivity and customer service experiences.
It was only a matter of time before IBM, which at one point led the tech giants in AI innovation, entered the generative AI fray. The announcement of the new watsonx platform shows the company clearly aims to keep in the game.
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Microsoft Continues Copilot Everywhere Drive
Meanwhile, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is keeping up the Copilot momentum, this time with extended access to Microsoft 365 Copilot preview, along with the announcement of several new features.
The new Microsoft 365 Copilot Early Access Program will have 600 enterprise customers using it in an invitation-only paid preview.
The new Copilot additions include:
- Copilot in Whiteboard: Using natural language, Copilot will be used here to create ideas, organize data and content into themes and create designs.
- Copilot in Outlook: Offers insights into sentiment and clarity to enable better email writing and communications.
- Copilot in OneNote: Offers prompts when developing plans and helps generate related content.
To support these new releases Microsoft also released new data from its 2023 Work Trend Index report entitled “Will AI Fix Work?”
The new index is based on a survey of 31,000 full-time or self-employed workers across 31 markets between Feb. 1, 2023 and March 14, 2023.
It argues that the next-generation AI will help workers manage the growing amount of work they have to do.
“This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity. There’s an enormous opportunity for AI-powered tools to help alleviate digital debt, build AI aptitude and empower employees,” said Microsoft CEO and chairman Satya Nadella in a statement.
While the report includes many different nuggets about the digital workplace, the research uncovers three main trends:
- Digital Debt: Digital debt is costing us innovation. Sixty-four percent of employees don’t have enough time and energy to get their work done and those employees are 3.5 times more likely to say they struggle with strategic thinking.
- Favorable to AI: For employees, the promise of AI and the possible work relief it offers outweighs job loss fears. It also suggests managers are looking to empower employees with AI, not replace.
- AI aptitude: Every employee, not just AI experts, will need new core competencies.
The new additions in Copilot are designed to address these issues. It is still early days in generative AI's development so it remains unclear how all this will unfold if employees start losing jobs. However, with the way the major vendors are introducing generative AI into their products it probably won’t take long to find out.
Robin Brings Generative AI to Hybrid Workplace Planning
Finally this week, Boston-based Robin, providers of a hybrid workplace experience platform, announced it is bringing generative AI to its platform.
In a statement, the company stated its new offering will remove the difficulty of scheduling in-office visits for hybrid companies as well as automate the end-to-end booking experience to optimize space use.
According to the company, the new addition gives hybrid workers insights into who will be in the office and what activities they will be working on.
It also provides insights into available desks and the tools any given desk includes, allowing people to book desks based on needs.
Robin claims to have 2,000 customers, ranging from SMBs to enterprises with over 100,000 employees, and currently has more than one million users.
Robin was founded in 2014 and has raised $59.1 million to date, according to Crunchbase.
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About the Author
David is a European-based journalist of 35 years who has spent the last 15 following the development of workplace technologies, from the early days of document management, enterprise content management and content services. Now, with the development of new remote and hybrid work models, he covers the evolution of technologies that enable collaboration, communications and work and has recently spent a great deal of time exploring the far reaches of AI, generative AI and General AI.