Google Email Automatic Reply Tool Expanded

John Lister's picture

Google is expanding a feature that automatically suggests quick email replies that you can send with one click. It's moving it from mobile only to the desktop, though won't yet be part of the main Gmail tool.

The feature, called Smart Reply, debuted on the Inbox by Gmail mobile app. That's a separate tool to Gmail, though lets you access the same email accounts. The difference is that the app contains several tools designed to make it easier to deal with large numbers of messages, particularly for people who work on the move.

Smart Reply works by scanning the content of an incoming message and then selects up to three suggested replies based on context. You can send any of these replies just by tapping it, or you can write a longer reply in the normal manner.

One example is a message asking if you've made vacation plans yet. Suggested replies can include "No plans yet", "I just sent them to you" or "I'm working on them".

Prank Becomes Reality

Amazingly the idea was first floated by Google in 2009 as an April Fool's joke but was turned into reality after the company bought out a firm specializing in machine learning. (Source:

The system is limited by the fact that, for privacy reasons, Google isn't letting its staff look at individual messages - meaning the process is almost entirely automated. This led to some early problems where the system learned likely responses based on outgoing messages but didn't filter for context appropriately. In initial tests, that meant personal messages such as "I love you" were commonly suggested as likely responses.

The system improves over time by seeing which responses people choose to use. As much as it's a tool for users, Smart Reply is also a way for Google to work on artificial intelligence, specifically the way in which the system learns. Things seem to be going well, with Google recently saying that 10 percent of replies sent through the Inbox for Gmail app are now "written" using Smart Reply. (Source:

Tool Now Comes To Desktops

The Smart Reply tool is now being added to the web edition of Inbox by Gmail. Although that's not as widely known, it's accessible by any Gmail user by visiting That's a surprise move as one of the key arguments for needing the tool on mobile devices is that small touchscreens make it much more difficult to type long replies - a limitation that's not there on full-blown PCs.

Google hasn't yet said anything about bringing Smart Reply to the main Gmail app or website. If it does so, it may wait until the system is even more refined and there's less danger of confusing or annoying more casual users.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use Inbox by Gmail rather than the standard Gmail app or site? Have you tried Smart Reply? Is it a tool you would find useful or is it an unnecessary gimmick?

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