If you’re like most people, you probably have dozens – maybe even hundreds – of emails just sitting in your inbox, waiting for a reply. With a mile-long to-do list, it’s not always easy to find time to reply to each and every message.

But if you’re an Inbox user, your email may just be able to respond for you.

Google’s new AI autoresponder, known as Smart Reply, can actually read your messages, and suggest up to three replies you can send. For emails that only require a quick response, Smart Reply can save you a lot of time. Even for more detailed emails, the new autoresponder feature can give you a few suggestions on how to get your email started.

How Does Smart Reply Work?

Technically, Smart Reply isn’t an autoresponder – it won’t send messages for you automatically. But it does use machine learning to recognize emails and generate responses using natural language. The process is complex, and this is a project that has been many years in the making for Google.

The entire Smart Reply feature is built using an artificial neural network to pinpoint patterns in email communications. If you’re concerned about privacy, don’t be. No humans are allowed to read Google’s massive database of email messages. Machines, on the other hand, are. And using that data, machines are able to turn sentences into what Google calls “thought vectors.”

Not only can these machines read and begin to recognize messages, but it can also use the common replies to formulate intelligent responses.

Here’s how it works:

  • Open an email that you’d like to reply to.
  • Smart Reply will come up with up to three responses for you. These three responses will be located underneath the reply box.
  • Click or tap a response.
  • Send your email.

It’s that simple. Of course, you also have the option of adding to your response before sending out the email. This way, if you want to reply to a very long and detailed email, you can at least use Smart Reply to get your email started.

The Smart Reply feature was automatically included with the November update to Inbox. Right now, it’s only available on the app versions of Inbox on both iOS and Android devices. We imagine that the AI autoresponder feature will be available on the desktop version of Inbox in the near future.

How “Smart” is Smart Reply?

One of the great things about the Smart Reply feature is that it grows and learns along with you. Just like Google’s spam filter, the responses that you choose – or don’t choose – will help improve future suggestions offered by Smart Reply.

The team who developed the new intelligent responder did face a number of challenges along the way. One of the biggest – and quirkiest – was the common suggestion to reply with “I love you.” As it turns out, Googlers (Google employees) tend to say “I love you” a lot in their emails. But of course, this response could be quite awkward in most work settings. You wouldn’t want to tell your boss you love him – at least most people don’t. The team worked on a way to filter out this message, so it’s safe for use at work. And the team is constantly working on new ways to improve the Smart Reply feature, so it’s always changing and improving.

Smart Reply is a great way to send quick replies to messages that are just sitting in your inbox. And unlike other similar services that have failed in the past, the offered suggestions are natural and concise. As the feature continues to grow, we may see Smart Reply responses evolve from 4-5 word replies, to longer sentences of 10-12 words.


*Featured Image – Credit Aleksey Boldin | Dreamstime.com

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