This summer, Gmail's billion-plus users received a new chill-but-efficient way to answer emails: Smart Reply.
Smart Reply is Gmail's suggested response feature. At the bottom of received emails, Gmail serves three short phrases that its AI has determined are appropriate and relevant responses. Popular responses are phrases like "Awesome," or "Sounds good, let me know."
The feature was initially available just in the Inbox app, but rolled out in the new version of Gmail to all users in July.
As the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, the responses sometimes sound anachronistic, curt, or out of character for the writers. Personally, I can't decide whether Google frequently suggesting phrases that I myself was about to write is helpful or irksome. I have also wondered whether saving a few seconds of not having to type "ok, sounds good" is worth letting a robot mediate my interactions with other humans. Or if the impulse to hit a button instead of form a thought could in some way stymie my own expression, even in rote communications.
Despite user misgivings, smart reply is catching on. The Journal reports that smart replies constitute 10 percent of all messages sent over Gmail.
Smart reply first rolled out in the soon-to-be-defunct Inbox app in 2015. As of May 2017, twelve percent of all messages sent on Inbox were smart replies. But that was just in an offshoot app; 10 percent of all emails on the billion user-strong Gmail is much more significant. We've reached out to Google to ask how much of an increase the 10 percent figure constitutes, and will update this when and if we hear back.
But even with a conservative estimate, 10 percent of all Gmails is huge. Gmail users comprise over a quarter of all email users, and we the humans of earth send 269 billion emails every day. That means that smart replies account for at least 6.7 billion emails flying through the tubes on a daily basis. Through smart reply, Google has guided millions of us on humanity's path to embrace the robots.