With the Pixel 8, Google just won the AI war

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(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

When you see the words Artificial Intelligence, you probably think of some cryptic computer powering a creepy thing like ChatGPT or Google Bard. You're right, of course, but AI doesn't have to be upfront and in your face. In fact, I would say it's more useful when it gets out of the way.

Google's Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro lean heavily on AI because Google is the biggest AI company in the world — they just never wanted to admit it until AI turned into something cool.

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One of the web's longest-running tech columns, Android & Chill is your Saturday discussion of Android, Google, and all things tech.

In any case, what Google has done with AI on the Pixel 8 line is pretty darned spectacular and I think the company is leading the way in making AI something you want to use and love to use, even though you might not know you're using it.

Generative AI used to power things like ChatGPT, Google Bard, or even Stable Diffusion are undoubtedly cool, but they're little more than party tricks when it comes to what AI is actually capable of doing. The very best summary of Generative and Conversational AI is asking about wet towels:

ChatGPT can't do math or laundry

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All silliness aside, AI needs a lot of work for times when we interact with it directly. The tech will probably get there one day, but for now, don't trust Generative AI to do your laundry.

What AI is really good at, though, is collecting, processing, and regurgitating large chunks of data quickly. AI can find all your recent exercise routines, pair them with all your recent sleep data, your hydration data, and all the other data points that you've shared, and tell you why you might have taken a little longer to run five miles yesterday than you did last week. Google showed off just that when talking about how Bard can work with the new AI-powered Fitbit.

Fitbit AI and Labs

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The new Audio Magic Eraser seems like magic, but it's really just AI that takes in data, compares it against itself, and filters out audio that's different in some way. When you run these routines on specialized hardware like the Tensor chip inside the Pixel 8, it (in theory) just works. It doesn't need you to do anything more than tap a button and let the AI handle the rest.

This is the most exciting thing about the new camera. Yes, some of this automatic editing seems a little creepy and unethical, but most users aren't going to care. The ability to "fix" a group photo so that everyone is looking at the camera and smiling is simply an amazing feature as far as the average consumer goes.

Less obvious than AI-enhanced photo editing or something like video boost, but equally impressive, are call screening options and text-to-speech translation done in real-time. When you use the Google phone app to screen those extended warranty a-holes or have Chrome read a web page that's written in Mandarin aloud to you in English or Spanish, it's awesome. 

The Google Pixel 8 Pro cameras and temperature sensor

(Image credit: Google)

Google has mastered the use of AI behind the scenes, doing work that presents results consumers are going to love. Conversational Generative AI is impressive and becomes useful when it's incorporated into something like Google Docs or Microsoft Office. It doesn't make most people say, "WOW!" though. Erasing your photobombing little brother from an otherwise great picture or having Fitbit let you know you took more time on your run because you were running uphill and got less sleep will; none of these features are going to make the Pixel 8 Pro the best-selling phone of all time.

Consumers typically have short attention spans, and many people buying a new phone will have no idea that any of this exists, never mind how well it works. Google isn't winning the AI war in this sense.

It's a different story when it comes to using AI the right way, though. Apple and Samsung will need to try and copy these sorts of things, and they'll both have some level of success. ChatGPT will eventually understand how towels dry. But when it comes down to that WOW! factor, Google has an almost unsurpassable lead.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.