Every year, Google I/O brings together developers from around the world to discuss the latest and greatest advancements in web, mobile, and enterprise applications.

Because the conference typically focuses on new releases and initiatives from Google, it is of significant interest to SEO experts and aficionados.

But this year, search took a back seat to an increasingly important component of Google’s strategy – Google Assistant.

In fact, during the two-hour keynote, senior members of Google staff only mentioned search twice in a long-list of announcements.

The ever-present and impressive Google Assistant

Google Assistant is now on 500 million devices, in 80 countries, and will feature 30 languages by the end of 2018.

But that’s just the beginning, as Assistant-related advancements at Google I/O included:

  • New voices – Along with six new Assistant voices, Google will also release limited voice content from musician John Legend. This could open the door to more celebrity voices and greater customisation for a personal assistant often described as cold when compared to Siri and Alexa.
  • Natural conversation – Users should now be able to have more natural conservations with Google Assistant without having to say ‘Hey Google’ or ‘OK Google’ every time they speak. The ability to ask follow-up questions without ‘wakewords’ is something Amazon recently introduced too.
  • Custom routines – In an effort to improve smart home living, Google Assistant can now combine tasks (turn on lights, music, TV etc.) into ‘custom routines’ with unique names. Users will also be able to schedule tasks at specific times throughout the year.
  • Smart displays – Google is starting to champion ‘smart displays’, which can be navigated with voice as well as touch. During I/O, Google promoted video calling and YouTube TV with the help of Assistant.
  • Smartphone interaction – Soon after its discussion of smart displays, Google showed how Assistant on smartphones is now a richer visual experience. There was a demo of how you could order food and complete tasks from a simple voice search within Assistant (e.g. adjust a thermostat).

However, perhaps the biggest story to come out of I/O, which has been taking the online world by storm ever since, was Google Assistant’s ability to make phone calls and schedule appointments all by itself.

Google Assistant embraces artificial intelligence with Duplex

Duplex is a feature within Google Assistant that harnesses artificial intelligence to call local businesses and schedule appointments without user interaction.

During two demos, a natural-sounding voice spoke to real people over the phone and had multi-step conversations; each of which resulted in a successful appointment being booked.

https://youtu.be/JvbHu_bVa_g

This is what Google has to say about it:

Today we announce Google Duplex, a new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out “real world” tasks over the phone… The system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine.

This could have a knock-on effect for traditional web search, as more and more people start seeking answers to their queries through voice search instead.