GMail gets Smarter Inbox with Smart Reply

Google implements a new feature in GMail's Inbox app, where replies are suggested by intelligent software.

Google has launched a new feature in Inbox that allows users to reply to emails using pre-determined responses, called ‘Smart Reply’. Although this is similar to the ‘Templates’ option found in most smartphone messaging applications, Smart Reply analyzes the email and intelligently chooses an appropriate response based on the text of the email.

Inbox was launched in 2014 as an invitation-only service, just like GMail in 2004. Since its launch, Inbox smartly groups emails and allows users to better organize their inbox without disturbing the original GMail account. Inbox increases productivity for a user by allowing sorting of emails in a task list, offering reminders, snoozing until the perfect time to respond, and so on.

An average user spends about 13 hours a week responding to emails alone. Smart Reply uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to suggest appropriate responses in order to save time when replying to emails. After opening an email and clicking on the ‘Reply’ button in Inbox, the feature suggests three replies based on the contents of the email. The software also allows editing to further enhance the reply.

“Smart Reply suggests up to three responses based on the emails you get," said Bálint Miklós, a software engineer working at Google. “For those emails that only need a quick response, it can take care of the thinking and save precious time spent typing. And for those longer emails that require a bit more thought, it gives you a jump-start so you can respond right away."

As Smart Reply uses artificial intelligence, it learns automatically by monitoring how a user replies to each email and thus, gets smarter over time. It is built on two powerful ‘neural networks’, computer programs which mimic brain activity and information transfer using artificial neurons. Neural networks learn about an environment by analyzing enormous amounts of data and extracting patterns based on the information available. Neural networks are also used in Google’s voice search, and on YouTube.

Smart Reply attempts to hit two birds with one stone – by providing mobile users a way to instantly send a reply without typing, and to lessen the clutter which accumulates in every user’s inbox; all the while encouraging users to use Inbox on mobile more often than the traditional GMail app.

The feature rolls out on English versions of the Inbox app for Android and iOS in the upcoming week. Users can expect less email clutter after this upgrade.

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