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Google hints at a non-ad business model for its AI assistant

Could the Google Assistant find a home in non-Google devices?

Google Hosts Its Annual I/O Developers Conference Justin Sullivan / Getty

The Google Assistant — a machine intelligence system the company wants you to talk to anywhere and everywhere — is a lot like Google search, but different.

"We think of the Assistant as a fundamentally different product than search and we think it’s going to be used in a different way," John Giannandrea, Google's new search and artificial intelligence chief, said onstage at the I/O developer conference.

He didn't delve into specifics, beyond noting that the Assistant is built more around conversations — tech that talks, nudges and prompts you, not just gives answers. Still, the Google SVP cautioned, dialogue and language are "the big unsolved problems in computer science."

One difference could come in the business model. Instead of ads, which support search, Google may dole out its upcoming AI tech to companies and devices that want it.

The Assistant isn't out yet; Google promised it later this year. It will live inside two other to-come products, its Home voice-controlled device and Allo, its new messaging app.

It could live elsewhere, too. Like other consumer devices that want Google's machine smarts built inside. And Google would, presumably charge for it. For consumers, that may be a more comforting model than, say, 'This AI answer is brought to you by Tide.'

When asked about revenue for the Assistant, Giannandrea gave the normal Google deflection. Google builds things for millions of users, and the business stuff comes later.

But he put some possibilities on the table. "It may make sense to syndicate that to other manufacturers at some point," he said about the Assistant.

Then he added: "We don’t have any plans to do that today."

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