GOOGLE said it was moving from a “mobile-first to an AI-first world” as it unveiled a host of new products at its I/O conference.

The company announced several new features for its Google Home speaker at I/O, including voice calling, and the ability to use Google Actions – the equivalent of Amazon’s Skills – on Android devices. The focus on AI development echoed the tone of Microsoft’s recent developer conference, but it’s Amazon the company has fixed in its sights, according to analysts. “Google needed to urgently respond to Amazon’s stealth takeover of the home and beyond with Alexa” said Geoff Blaber, head of mobile device software research at CCS Insight.

Google Assistant is becoming the glue that connects search, devices and a host of Google and third-party services” Blaber added. “It’s not only central to the future of search, but also the long-term relevance of Google as a gateway to others’ apps and services. Assistant is beginning to emerge as the real platform for developers.” 

In a bid to attract developers and improve its AI and deep learning credentials, Google also announced that it would be introducing tensor processing units (TPUs) developed specifically for machine learning. According to CCS Insight, Google promised to help developers create better cloud and machine learning tools for its Assistant and sent out a “clear message in developer sessions with its commitment to democratising the hardware needed by enabling access to its TPUs”. 

Google said it would provide developers with a cluster of 1,000 cloud-based TPUs to play with for free, offering 180 tera flops offloating point performance for model training and inference.

This is a clever move and builds on Google Cloud’s core strengths in education” said Blaber. “It positions Google and its TensorFlow framework at the heart of academia— the group that is spearheading the advancement of machine and deep learning.

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