Google seems to be preparing an AI writing tool for ChromeOS

By | August 11, 2023

Building on the company’s continued momentum on generative AI tools, it looks like Google is readying an AI writing and editing feature for Chromebooks.

Google is no stranger to offering AI-powered features aimed at improving the quality of your writing. Today, you can find professional-oriented tools like “Write to me” and “Help me write” in Gmail and Google Docs, while even the consumer-focused Google Messages recently picked up a “Magic Compose” feature that can either rewrite your first draft answer or draft an answer based on conversational context.

As demonstrated by the AI ​​focus at this year’s I/O conference—and in the months since, with announcements like Project IDX—anything Google can reasonably apply generative AI to, it will attempt to do so.

Based on our latest research, one of the next Google products to get AI integration could be ChromeOS. Earlier this year, we showed that some Googlers, in the wake of Bard’s web launch, were working on integrating the chatbot into Chromebooks, but that effort has long since disappeared, at least in public code.

Lately, the company has been actively working on a project that oddly has at least five codenames attached, the three most important of which are “Orca,” “Mako,” and “Manta.” Needless to say, the level of secrecy surrounding the project piqued our interest.

From what we can find, “Orca” will primarily appear in ChromeOS’ right-click menu, but only when you’re editing text. When selected, Orca will open the “Mako” UI in a “bubble” above your screen.

According to the code, Mako has three core tasks. First, it can “request paraphrases” of a particular piece of text, presumably requesting an AI-paraphrased version of what you’ve written. Second, it can offer a list of “preset text queries,” which we assume, in the context of generative AI, are examples of how to ask for a particular style. Finally, Mako can “paste” the rewritten text wherever you originally wrote.

However, as you’d expect, this AI rewriting process doesn’t happen locally on your Chromebook. Instead, “Manta” appears to send your original text and prompt to Google’s servers, which send back the AI-enhanced version. Of course, like Magic Compose and Google’s other AI writing tools, you must explicitly consent before any of your writing is ever sent to the company’s servers.

Notably, given all the debugging Google has used with this new ChromeOS feature, nothing in the code has explicitly said that generative AI is involved. In fact, the only direct clue we’ve gotten to the purposes of the Orca, Mako, and Manta is a lone mention of “Copy Proposal.” Although it may sound clipboard-related at first, we believe that “Copy” is used in the sense of “copy editing” or “writing copy.”

Given that context and Google’s current enterprise-wide AI focus, it seems very likely that ChromeOS is preparing AI suggestions and rewrites.

What makes this particular instance of AI assistance interesting to us is that, by being directly incorporated into ChromeOS, it will be available to enhance text typed in almost any app. Whether you’re writing a reply in Google Messages for the web, drafting a social media post, or chatting with friends on Discord, this AI assistant is just a click away.

As for when Google intends to launch this likely AI tool for Chromebooks, it looks like the absolute earliest it could arrive is with ChromeOS version 118, scheduled to arrive in mid-October . That said, these things take time, so it may take a few extra months to fully launch.

Additionally, we’ve seen signs that Google may intend to make Orca/Mako/Manta exclusively available on Chromebook X devices. First unveiled earlier this year, the Chromebook X is an upcoming effort by Google to meaningfully differentiate high-quality ChromeOS hardware from affordable, student-oriented models.

However, since the Chromebook X program has some minimum specifications and only some existing devices will be upgraded to the new experience, this could mean that this potential AI tool may not be made available to most current Chromebooks.

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