Smart Reply: when is enough, enough?

Google Mail, or Gmail, is fast becoming the email of choice for many people around the world. In fact, Gmail users have recently surpassed the one billion user mark around the world, which is double the amount of users 6 years ago. If you crunch the numbers even further, and take out the 1.3 billion people on mainland China (Google has been blocked in China since 2014), then eliminate the 600 million kids under ten, that leaves you with a total of approximately one in 5 people using Gmail. Of course, North America and Western Europe tend to be bigger users, but the message here is Gmail is here to stay. Best of all, for those of us who use the app, Google continues to invest more money than most countries are worth, into its products.

I recently noticed a new feature in my Gmail messages, when replying to emails. That feature is called Smart Reply. At the bottom of my email message are three responses that I can simply click on and send, and save the time of typing or talking a response. How insincere is that? Or is it?

My initial opinion was that AI (artificial intelligence) is going too far. Surely I can take a few minutes and key in (or talk in, as in my case) a personal response. Then, however, I started noticing that the ‘canned’ or ‘auto’ responses are very similar to things I would say. How cool is that? I did a little digging and discovered that they are not ‘canned’ responses. In fact, they are anything but. The mystic machines at Google analyze every email message and magically create responses based on how you as an individual, speaks (or in this case, types).

Words you frequently use in your responses like, ‘sure’, ‘brilliant’, ‘absolutely’, or whatever, will begin to show up in the smart reply boxes at the bottom of emails. So I started using them, and guess what? No one knew it wasn’t me typing. Of course, this made me feel very cold and a bit ashamed, but then I started thinking about the good old days, when we would send greeting cards on every occasion. I remember when E-cards came out and how impersonal they were... but we used them, more and more. Now they are quite acceptable. My Christmas card list has gone from 200 to 35.

Google is merely providing a means for us to save time. Sure, it’s important every now and again, to stop and smell the roses, but really, have we not been looking for more effective ways to maximize our time for as long as we can remember. The car replaced the horse and carriage, the record player replaced going to music halls, and movies have cut into reading. Airplanes replaced ocean liners, McDonald’s replaced cooking, and television replaced family chit chats. I won’t even begin to look at what computers, tablets and smart phones did for our social skills.

So the question is when is enough? The answer is simple: stop sending emails and Google will stop expanding. When your smart phone breaks, buy a flip phone. The next car you buy, get one without a GPS and buy a Perly’s map, and when you sit down on a Sunday evening to relax, cancel Netflix and play Dominos. If the answer is, there is never enough, then go nuts with all the technology around us and have a blast. Hold on, someone just texted me, so I will leave it at that.

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