Google recently released a brand new feature for mobile Gmail users, and if you bring up Gmail on your phone to answer clients or team members quickly, you've probably noticed it: Gmail is trying to write your emails for you. Select any average email to read, and you will see several different pre-written responses waiting for you to send back.
The feature is called Google Smart Reply, and it's the latest example of how AI is starting to change the way we use email, too. These intelligent, auto-generated replies represent a new way of dealing with a full email box, and if you're a busy sales rep or marketer, it pays to be on top of the trend. Here's what is worth knowing right now.
Time is the Key
Email AI is all about saving time. The goal is to replace what you would type out with a response that's more or less the same thing. Google gets a little more ambitious here – Smart Reply also tries to imitate casual language and may even pick up on your own personal habits, like the phrases you use to say thank you, how you handle punctuation, and more. With a little machine learning, a successful email AI can generate replies that sound like you wrote them.
Of course, they currently stop before actually sending an email, and probably always will. It's important for the email user to check in on the response and make sure it is accurate, what they want to say, and no offensive for any random reason.
Simple Is as Simple Does
Currently, email AI is not complex. It cannot reference more complicated data, and it doesn't pull information from many places beyond your calendar and contact list. Smart Reply, for example, specializes in very short responses like, "Would you like to schedule a meeting tomorrow?" or "That sounds great, thanks." It works well for those casual by necessary acknowledgements that sap seconds out of your day, but not for any email masterpieces.
However, simplicity may just be the start. Take a look at voice assistances like Cortana, which can gather information from around the internet, OneDrive, and your computer to answer complex questions or schedule out events based on the communication within your emails. If Cortana gets a powerful "answer email" function, she may be capable of more impressive feats, opening the gate for complex responses.
It's Not Perfect
Even Smart Reply's simple answers aren't always very useful. The problem is obvious but important: AI really struggles with human emotions. When the information presented is simple and binary, it has no problem answering. But emails also include a lot of emotion – even an exclamation point or smiley face can change the meaning of a very short email. And AI, even complex versions from Google, can't really understand and imitate that emotion to create a real-sounding message. You will probably get the most use out of Smart Reply and similar options if your emails tend to be calm and highly professional.
Feeling Uneasy About the AI? Try Automation First
Email automation is a baby step toward a full AI response that still helps take some emails off your hands. If you send the same email out over and over, you can create templates that the whole team can use to more quickly respond to leads. It's not exactly auto-generating responses or learning from your old emails, but it does help save on time.
Or if you are feeling more adventurous, you can use something like Reginald, which you can set to respond to extremely annoying people with very snide insults and putdowns. Again, it doesn't try to imitate your own emails, but it does put off more annoying emails from people you wish you could get rid of.
Overall, it's worth noting that there are a lot of directions email automation can go for fun or efficiency: If email is a big part of your day, see which option can save you time. Smart Reply is free and easy to ignore if it doesn't work out, so it remains a viable first step as well. Why not experiment a little?