Google CEO talks AI-first world — where will the hardware go?

Quick, what’s the future of computing? If you said mobile, you just flunked Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s test.

“Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away,” Pichai said in a letter to investors Thursday. “Over time, the computer itself — whatever its form factor — will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI first world.”

So the form factor for the future of computing is unclear. Maybe our intelligent assistants will look like Scarlett Johansson in “Her.” Or maybe they’ll be unseen — think Siri, Google Now or Cortana whispering appointments and sweet nothings in our ears.

But before we get too carried away, hang on.

On the same day Pichai wrote about a possibly device-less AI future, Google created a new division to unite all its hardware efforts, Recode reported. It will be headed by Rick Osterloh, former president of Motorola.

So when Pichai says “over time,” it may be a while. In the meantime, don’t forget that the company’s selling Nexus phones, Chromebooks, Chromecast dongles. Then there’s Glass (remember it?) and other experimental hardware, such as Project Ara, which is a modular-smartphone effort. All this will be under the new, unified division.

This was the first year Google’s annual letter to shareholders, titled the Founders’ Letter, was written by someone other than company co-founders Larry Page or Sergey Brin. Besides talking up the future of artificial intelligence, Pichai — who became Google CEO last year after the creation of holding company Alphabet — also expounded on the importance of search, the cloud and the company’s longtime mantra of the Internet as a democratizing force.

Photo: Google’s Sundar Pichai in 2013.  (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)


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