Google's Inbox uses machine learning to speed up email replies

A new Smart Reply feature puts a quick response one tap away

Not every email deserves a handcrafted response. Sometimes, all it takes is a sentence to answer the one burning question that someone has dropped in your inbox, which is why Google is using the power of machine learning to make email triage a little bit faster.

The company announced a new Smart Replies feature for its Inbox email client on Tuesday, which gives users up to three quick options to send back in reply to emails based on a machine learning analysis of the message's content. People can use the short replies as either a way to quickly respond, or a way to start a longer message. Smart Reply could be a boon to mobile users who are on the go and don't have time to tap out a whole response.

Because of the way the feature is built, it learns to suggest better responses over time. That's important, because it should help cut down on bad suggestions that are inappropriate. (In early testing at Google, Smart Reply suggested that co-workers send "I love you" to one another.)

Smart Reply will start rolling out to Inbox users later this week. The new feature is in keeping with Inbox's positioning as an email client that helps users sort and handle their messages intelligently.

The idea of machine learning-powered replies using the context gleaned from a message isn't new in the communications space. Both Google and Apple have default keyboards in their mobile operating systems that suggest text based on the messages users are responding to.

Using machine learning to improve the way that people communicate over email is important for Google as it competes with other companies to be a user's preferred provider. Microsoft uses similar techniques to categorize users' email in Outlook, and continues to build out new capabilities in its products.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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