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Google CEO Sundar Pichai, showing off the improved voice of the Google Assistant at I/O 2018. Photo: Google

Google's robotic assistant, which can convincingly converse with a person to make a reservation and uses all-too-human sounding "umms" and other responses, was met with a mix of awe and concern after Google's opening I/O keynote.

Why it matters: Though incredibly impressive, there are a lot of questions about just how far Google has gotten in its effort to get its robot assistant to reliably converse with a human. That Google can do it successfully even part of the time is an impressive feat. It's not quite passing the Turing Test, but it's a big step in that direction.

  • The other big issue is what ethics should apply: Namely, should a robot AI have to disclose itself? Google is in a bit of a bind here, since if the assistant discloses it's a robot, people will no longer talk to it like a human. Nonetheless, I think that most people today would be annoyed to learn they were unknowingly talking to a computer — or as Chris Messina put it, being turned into an API endpoint.

2. Technology that encourages you to use it less. A big theme at I/O was digital well-being, including features in the Android P operating system that will both tell you how you are spending time on your mobile device as well as suggest ways you might pare back usage — especially as it gets close to bedtime.

  • It's the first big move from the big device makers to offer such fine-grain control, though there are third-party apps for Android that set time limits, either for yourself or for kids.
  • Apple has some limited abilities to set time limits within iOS today, and is expected to expand its parental control options with the next version of iOS.
  • Amazon also has a range of parental controls for those using its devices and services.
  • But Google's moves go beyond parental controls and also address the fact many adults are addicted to their tech.

3. Maps that see what you see. This wasn't the biggest announcement of the day, but it is the kind of thing that we could look back on one day and wonder how we lived without it.

  • Think about how we use maps when walking today: We stare down at our phones to get directions, then look back up and try to overlay that with the reality we see. Google is clearly taking Maps to a place where it can do that work for us.

What else: Google also introduced a revamped Google News, AI-infused updates to Google Photos and new voices for Google Assistant (including John Legend). For a summary of all the big news, check out this story from the Axios stream. (If you don't already check out Axios.com/technology during the day, it's a good way to stay up-to-date before the next issue of Login arrives.)

What's next: I/O continues today, though the big announcements are probably over. As of this week, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all had their big annual gatherings with developers, but Apple takes its turn next month, when it's expected to detail the next versions of macOS and iOS.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
23 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Higher education expands its climate push

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New or expanded climate initiatives are popping up at several universities, a sign of the topic's rising prominence and recognition of the threats and opportunities it creates.

Why it matters: Climate and clean energy initiatives at colleges and universities are nothing new, but it shows expanded an campus focus as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, and the world is nowhere near the steep emissions cuts that scientists say are needed to hold future warming in check.

Ina Fried, author of Login
50 mins ago - Economy & Business

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Texas early voting surpasses 2016's total turnout

Early voting in Austin earlier this month. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Texas' early and mail-in voting totals for the 2020 election have surpassed the state's total voter turnout in 2016, with 9,009,850 ballots already cast compared to 8,969,226 in the last presidential cycle.

Why it matters: The state's 38 Electoral College votes are in play — and could deliver a knockout blow for Joe Biden over President Trump — despite the fact that it hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1976.