Google working on an AI assistant that could answer ‘impossible’ questions about you

Google is reportedly developing an AI assistant that will analyze personal photos, files, as well as Search results with the goal of telling “your life story”.

This news comes from CNBC which saw documents revealing that the tech giant recently held an “internal summit” where company execs and employees presented Project Ellman. According to the piece, the AI will offer a “bird’s–eye view” of someone’s life by grabbing files from your Google Account, and utilizing written biographies and adjacent content to understand context. This process includes sifting through the information files to pinpoint important moments. The Google employees claimed Project Ellman could deduce the day a user was born, who their parents are, and if they have any siblings. 

It doesn’t stop there because apparently, it's able to highlight chapters in your life like the years you spent at college or living in a certain city. Ellman can even learn your eating habits. If, for example, you upload a bunch of photos of pizza and pasta, the AI can infer that perhaps you’re a big fan of Italian food. The tech isn’t restricted to one person either as it can identify friends and family, plus social events you’ve been to.

Based on the report’s description alone, Project Ellman sounds very reminiscent of Memories on Google Photos, although on a much wider scale. 

Personal chatbot

CNBC states the presentation continued with demonstrating Ellman Chat, which was described as ChatGPT, but with the ability to “answer previously impossible questions”. Judging by the examples given, the questions aren’t necessarily impossible; just tricky especially if you're a forgetful person. For instance, you can ask the chatbot the last time your brother visited or for suggestions on a location you can move to based on the pictures you upload. 

Then we get to what may be one of Project Ellman’s secret purposes. By analyzing the screenshots users upload, the tech can make all sorts of predictions – from products you might buy, what interests you may have, plus future travel plans. The presenters also pitched the idea that it can learn what websites you frequent.

Project Ellman may know you better than you know yourself.

Analysis: All about you

We don’t think we have to tell you just how creepy all this sounds. We’re talking about an AI diving deep into your files, scrounging for every bit of data it can grab. Where is all that information going? 

Gemini, Google's new large language model (LLM) is implied to be the model that’ll power Project Ellman because it’s multimodal, or in other words, it can accept multiple forms of inputs besides text. Generative AIs need a constant stream of content to stay up to date. It seems like Google might be pole-vaulting over privacy boundaries, seeking more data to feed Gemini and keep it growing.

Granted, there’s no guarantee Ellman will ever see the light of day. A Google spokesperson told CNBC this is all an “early internal exploration”. If there are plans for a release, developers will take the time to ensure it’s helpful to people while keeping user privacy at the forefront. 

We urge you to take this statement with a grain of salt. Despite their supposed best efforts, the company has a storied history when it comes to privacy issues. The company gets into a lot of trouble for it. Just look at the Wikipedia page on the topic; it’s huge.

Hopefully, this is all overblown and the tech giant doesn’t launch a digital vacuum cleaner sucking up everything.

If you're looking for ways to start protecting your data, check out TechRadar's list of the best ad blockers for 2023

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Apple’s Vision Pro might be impossible to buy – and not just because of its price

We knew that getting our hands on the Apple Vision Pro would be a challenge – unless you happen to have a spare $ 3,499 (around £2,800 / AU$ 5,300) lying around that is. But even if you're able to afford the super-expensive VR headset you might still be out of luck, as new reports suggest Apple will produce limited numbers this year.

That’s according to a report from Bloomberg, which cites a paywalled Financial Times article claiming that Apple is having to rethink its sales targets for the Vision Pro, as it likely won’t be able to make as many as originally planned. 

Apple had apparently hoped to sell one million headsets in 2024, but sources from Apple and Luxshare, which is currently the sole manufacturer of the headset, say they'll struggle to produce 400,000, while suppliers of key Vision Pro components have suggested that Apple may only be able to make around 150,000 with the parts it's requested.

This follows reports earlier this year that Apple may only be able to produce 300,000 Vision Pros in its first year of sale, and that Apple itself had predicted it would only sell around 100,000 headsets. For comparison, Meta’s Quest 2 sold an estimated 8.7 million units in its first full year on sale.

It's worth nothing that these latest reports are based on uncorroborated leaks, and while Apple may be struggling to hit its targets now, that situation could change, and Apple and Luxshare might be able to speed up production. What’s more, if the Apple Vision Pro doesn't prove hugely popular with consumers, 100,000 units could be all Apple needs to meet demand; low production numbers would only become a problem if the headset sells like hotcakes.

What could be causing Apple’s production problems?

A person touching the Apple Vision Pro's digital crown with their hand

Apple’s VR headset may struggle take the VR crown from Meta (Image credit: Apple)

So how is Meta able to produce millions of VR headsets a year while Apple is reportedly struggling to make a fraction of that? We don’t know for certain, but there are a couple of possible and reported reasons for the Vision Pro’s rumored production problems.

For one, Meta has been in the VR game for a while now, and as a result it has well-established production pipelines, and it also has a better grasp of how popular its gadgets will be thanks to sales data that goes back to 2016, when the original Oculus Rift launched. Apple is flying blind to some extent – this is its first foray into XR tech (a catchall term for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality), and it doesn’t yet know how things will pan out. By limiting production there’s a much lower risk that it’ll wind up with warehouses full of a gadget no one wants to buy.

Also, Apple’s Vision Pro isn’t like other VR headsets – and this isn’t simply because of the ethereal ‘Apple difference’ that makes its tech so attractive fans. The Vision Pro has features we haven’t really seen before in VR headsets – especially not all packaged together. It has dual micro-OLED displays that boast a higher resolution than the current best VR headsets, an outer display that can show off the headset wearer’s eyes via its EyeSight tech, a 3D camera for mapping a person’s face or an object, and a bevy of other sensors to facilitate next-generation hand-tracking, to name just a few.

Cramming all this into the headset is a challenge, according to insiders familiar with the situation, causing the Vision Pro to have low production yields – read: it’s slow to produce, and a number of Apple’s headsets may have defects that mean they can’t be sold.

As we've mentioned, we won’t know how easy it will be for would-be buyers to get our hands on the Apple Vision Pro until it launches sometime in 2024. When it does go on sale, you’ll want to make sure you’ve read our Apple Vision Pro hands-on review, and checked out the competition (like the Meta Quest Pro) to know if you want one or not – as you may need to move quickly if you want to order one before stock runs out.

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