Talia Lliteras

Google I/O: AI, Right?

Two Developers (Ed Williams, Jake Moore) and a Solutions Architect (Adam McDonald) walk into Google I/O. Not to be confused with a joke, they returned to us intact and with their perspectives on the I/O experience this year. 

Why did you attend Google I/O?

Adam: I attended the first couple Google I/O events and I always found them fun and informative. My main focus this time around was to suck up as much information around some of Google’s main focuses these days: Machine Learning / AI and the Google Cloud Platform. These are topics that interest me personally, both inside and outside of work.

Ed:  There’s no better place to absorb the zeitgeist at Google than at Google IO. Although Google does a great job of streaming the keynotes and sessions, you really get a better sense of which areas the crowd and Google deem most important by attending in person. There’s also the numerous sandbox displays where Google showcases their latest tech demos, and of course, the fun filled after hours events. If you’re lucky enough to get chosen in the Google IO ticket lottery, going is a no-brainer.

Jake: I’m always interested in seeing what Google has been up to, and in my opinion I/O is the best way to get a quick three day summary. As an Android developer I’m usually most excited about seeing what’s next for Android, but this year I also wanted to see where they’re taking some of their newer products, like the Google Home.

When you attend conferences what are you looking for?

Adam: Conferences I’ve attended in the past have been super hectic and tiresome. These days, a lot of the major conferences are live streamed and the talks are uploaded online almost immediately after the sessions ends. This makes for a more relaxed experience because you aren’t always trying to rush to make every session. Additionally, it puts an emphasis on networking and attending side events. I’ll be pursuing more conferences of this type going forward.

Ed: Of course furthering one’s learning is always a primary goal when attending a conference,  but there are other intangibles that make me seek out conferences like Google IO. It’s great to be surrounded by people who share the same interests. Hearing about what others are doing and learning about the latest and greatest can really inspire you to step it up when you get back home.

Jake: I enjoy attending tech conferences because I think it’s a great way to network with other technologists. The breakout sessions are also a great way to absorb knowledge. It’s fun to be at ground zero for the new product announcements too, so I can visit the sandboxes and demos to really get a feel for them.

What were the main takeaways from the conference?

Adam: Machine learning is mainstream. Advances in machine learning technology has grown dramatically over the past five years and we’re barely getting started. I completed one of the coding labs they had set up on this topic and it was a ton of fun! In the end I was able to use the machine learning neural network I developed in the lab to recognize different varieties of flowers within photos. Pretty cool stuff!

Ed: The main takeaway that I got was the move from “Mobile first” to “AI first”. The dramatic improvements in voice and image recognition over the last couple years really opens the doors to a ton of new possibilities. Google even provided each attendee with a physical takeaway — a Google Home device. I’m looking forward to using Google’s new AI tools to develop intelligent apps for this new platform.

Jake: It’s pretty clear that Google is betting heavily on machine learning. Most of the new products announced use machine learning in some form: Google Lens, Google Assistant for iPhone, and Shared Libraries in Google Photos, to name a few. They even announced new machine learning hardware called TPUs (Tensor Processing Units). These chips were specifically designed to work with Google’s TensorFlow framework. Apple has always excelled at the intersection of hardware and software, so maybe Google can do the same in this space.

Any surprises?

Adam: I already knew this going in, but it was my first tech conference at an outdoor venue. There were huge air conditioned tents set up where the sessions were held. It was nice being able to get some sun while also ducking into the cooler tents.

Ed: The sun! Coming off a dark and gloomy winter here in Seattle I had forgotten the power of the sun’s rays. After a gentle burn from the first day I made sure to visit the generous sun screen stations Google provided. Also, first party support of Kotlin was a very welcome surprise and made many Android developers here at L4 (including myself) very happy.

Sunscreen bottles

Sunscreen was an unexpected freebie.

Jake: I was perhaps most surprised by the announcement of their Visual Positioning Service (VPS). VPS is mapping system that will run on Tango-enabled devices. This service will give precise location information indoors by using the cameras on the device to triangulate the user’s position based on visual features in the environment. The project appears to be in the very early stages, so don’t expect to find much information about it online.

I was also surprised that Google gave out devices this year. After not giving away any last year (does the Cardboard count?), I assumed they weren’t doing that anymore. I can’t wait to see what the Home can do, especially after it gets the new features announced at I/O.

Was there anything that did not meet your expectations?

Adam: Not really, just typical conference gripe. A number of sessions I attended were pretty high-level and lacked detail. I could have looked up the information online in five minutes instead of sitting through a 40 minute talk.

Ed: Although the Shoreline Amphitheater is a really cool venue, there were some shortcomings. It was hard to find a power outlet when device power ran low, and shady spots to sit and eat lunch were always in very high demand.

Jake: The coffee cups. The lids didn’t quite fit right, so coffee would spill out when you tipped the cup. Also, some of the cups were even leaking from the seam on the bottom. Aside from that, I would’ve liked to have seen more places to sit during lunch.

What was the best moment of Google I/O?

NIghtlife Nightlight

Nightlife at Google I/O

Adam: My L4 companions, of course! Jake and Ed made this an extremely fun event to attend. Others would probably point to all the updates they are making around the Android ecosystem. There was a ton of stuff announced around Android O, Android Studio, Kotlin support, and the new Android Go operating system.

Ed: Hearing that Google was fully supporting the Kotlin programming language was likely the best moment. The concise syntax and advanced capabilities had already piqued my interest in Kotlin, and hearing that Google is fully supporting it made my day. The roar of applause when this was announced made obvious that many other developers felt the same way.

Jake: The best moment for me was the announcement of Kotlin getting first-class support in Android. This means developers no longer need to install extras or worry about compatibility issues, and both JetBrains and Google will be supporting Android development in Kotlin. Most other platforms have already moved to more modern languages, so it’s nice to see Android do the same.

Feature image courtesy of NASA for Unsplash.

Talia Lliteras

As Marketing Manager, Talia serves as Editor of the L4 Digital Blog and generates content across media channels. She is a marketing and communications professional, with a background in digital and new media, and has a deep interest in proactive and mindful human and technology interfacing. In her free time she enjoys yoga, writing, film, finding the best new places to wine and dine, and practicing speaking French.

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