After users complained that Gmail’s Smart Reply wasn’t so smart, Google announced that it will soon give desktop users the ability to disable the A.I.-based feature. Although the time-saving feature relies on artificial intelligence to come up with short responses based on the context of the email message, users complained that early iterations of Smart Reply frequently offered suggestions that were either not very useful or not appropriate. Early iterations of Smart Reply often suggested “I love you” and “Sent from my iPhone” as possible responses to email messages.
Despite complaints, Smart Reply appears to be catching on. The Wall Street Journal reported that Smart Reply was used on more than 10 percent of all sent Gmail messages, which is a huge number considering that Gmail counts more than 1 billion users. The Journal also noted that in the coming weeks, Google will provide desktop Gmail users with the option of opting out of Smart Reply altogether. Google already offers users of the Gmail app the ability to turn it off.
Although Smart Reply only launched earlier this year alongside Google’s big Gmail redesign, the feature was present for about a year before that for Gmail users who used the Inbox service. Google claimed that 12 percent of Inbox users had used the smart feature, prompting it to make it available to more users. When Google moved Smart Reply out of Inbox and into Gmail, it said that it changed the algorithms to make the suggestions more natural.
“Based on our examination of the use of Smart Reply in Inbox and our ideas about how humans learn and use language, we have created a new version of Smart Reply for Gmail,” Google wrote on its A.I. research blog at the time. “This version increases the percentage of usable suggestions and is more algorithmically efficient.”
Google claims that by using a bot to scan your messages, it can apply machine learning to improve Smart Reply and make better, more personalized recommendations in the future. And even though suggestions may improve, for group emails, Smart Reply may not be able to discern whether you’ll want to reply to one person or everyone in the email thread.
For users who love the Smart Reply suggestions, Google is looking at ways to bring this capability to other messaging apps in the future on its Android platform.