Gmail is adding more AI to help you find important emails faster

AI seems to be everywhere at the moment, and Google is building the tech into its products faster than most. Gmail is the latest Google app to get an injection of artificial intelligence, to improve search results on mobile.

“When searching in Gmail, machine learning models will use the search term, most recent emails and other relevant factors to show you the results that best match your search query,” Google explains in a blog post (via Android Central).

“These results will now appear at the top of the list in a dedicated section, followed by all results sorted by recency,” the post continues. In other words, AI will (in theory) pick out the best matches for your search, and put them at the top of the list.

Years of AI

This is coming to the Gmail apps for Android and iOS, and should be rolling out for everyone now. As yet, there's no word on whether or not the same feature will be making an appearance in the desktop web interface for Gmail.

AI has been built into Gmail for years of course, with features like Smart Reply composing short automated replies for you. In recent months, Google has been pushing more advanced, generative AI as a way of composing your emails.

More AI features are heading to search on the web too, while development on the ChatGPT rival Google Bard continues at a steady pace. We can expect plenty more announcements like this one in the months and years ahead.

Analysis: AI needs to be useful

Google and other tech companies seem to have no qualms about pushing out AI features as quickly as they possibly can at the moment, which is what tends to happen in a competitive, emerging field when several players are trying to get out in front.

However, we'd query just how useful all of this AI is going to end up being. Sure, having the option to generate text messages in the style of Shakespeare is quite fun – but wouldn't most people prefer to use their own words from their own heads when keeping up conversations with friends and family?

Even something like Gmail search isn't a complete win for AI. What are the “relevant factors” that the app is using to pick the top results? Are they reliable? Sometimes it feels like the old manual methods of labels and stars are the best ways to keep on top of thousands of emails taking up room in Gmail.

In an age where we're relying on algorithms for everything from choosing our movie recommendations to writing our books, there's still a lot to be said for human creativity and curation, which might be slower but can be a whole lot more useful and engaging.

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Microsoft Outlook gets emails that update themselves after you send them

After being announced at Microsoft Ignite last year, Loop components are now rolling out in Microsoft Outlook.

For those unfamiliar, Microsoft Loop is a new app that combines a powerful and flexible canvas with portable components that move freely and stay in sync across the software giant's apps. It is made up of three elements in the form of Loop components, Loop pages and Loop workspaces.

While Loop pages are flexible canvases where users can organize all of their Loop components in one place and Loop workspaces are shared spaces that allow teams to see and group everything important to a project, Loop components are an evolution of Fluid components that help users collaborate and get things done in chats, emails, meetings and documents.

Now Microsoft Outlook users will be able to leverage the power of Loop components when using the company’s email service.

Loop components in Outlook

According to a new post in the Microsoft 365 roadmap, Loop components are now rolling out in Microsoft Outlook and these live, interactive objects can be embedded in email messages to provide real-time collaboration.

In a support document, Microsoft highlights several of its Loop components that users can add to emails in Outlook or even messages in Microsoft Teams. These include bulleted lists, checklists, numbered lists, paragraphs, tables, task lists and more.

One of the nice things about Loop components is that they are automatically saved to OneDrive so that you’ll be able to easily find and use them again later.

With the addition of Loop components in Outlook, emails will become much more fluid as they’ll even be able to update themselves after being sent. Say you add a list of follow-up tasks to an email, collaborators can check off items as they complete them and all of the changes made to the Loop component will be reflected in the original email. This way users don’t have to waste time sending emails back and forth to one another once a task has been completed.

We’ll likely hear more from Microsoft regarding Loop components once Microsoft 365 users get a chance to test them out for themselves.

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Microsoft Outlook will alert you if your emails aren’t up to standard

Microsoft is preparing to roll out a new feature for email service Outlook that will give users a chance to assess the suitability of their messages before sending.

As explained in a new entry to the company’s product roadmap, Outlook users will soon gain access to an upgraded version of the MailTips help service. Available from July onwards, the new-look tool will notify people if their emails do not live up to accessibility standards.

“Users will see a MailTip in Outlook recommending to fix accessibility issues before sending email messages to large [groups], external users, or for any messages marked as ‘high importance’. The MailTip will show up at the top of the email compose window,” explained Microsoft.

Outlook accessibility

With a larger proportion of collaboration taking place over email and cloud-based office software since the start of the pandemic, the need for workers to ensure their communications meet accessibility standards has only become more acute.

However, it’s not always easy to remember to perform accessibility checks in the heat of a busy working day. And in some instances, it may be unclear precisely what can be done to make an email more accessible. The upcoming update for MailTips in Outlook should help address both of these problems.

“By creating and sending accessible emails, you ensure that recipients can access, read and use the information they contain,” said Microsoft, in a separate explainer.

“We are expanding the functionality [of MailTips] to automatically prompt you when an accessibility violation is detected while composing an email to large audiences or external users, for example, and help you fix the issue.”

There are a number of ways to configure the new feature, which can be switched on permanently, activated only in certain scenarios (e.g. when a recipient has registered specific accessibility needs), or turned off until a manual accessibility check is performed.

The Outlook announcement follows on from a separate update for Microsoft Office, which serves a related purpose. As detailed in a blog post from January, Microsoft 365 customers can now use a new Accessibility Reminder add-on for Word, Excel and PowerPoint to notify colleagues of any additional needs they may have.

The idea was to create a non-confrontational way for someone to remind co-workers of their accessibility needs that didn’t involve sending out a dedicated email or instant message.

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