DMA: Wonders and wine when you drop into the Google cave

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Let Google entertain you for a chat and the meal some believe they've stolen from you, and you enter a different world.

One where the tech and other wonders you wish you could afford amaze, and the presumption with which they are presented is somehow, shall we say, only a minor irritant.

But hey, Google's cash is on offer, both to publishers and to the Digital Media Asia conference we're attending. When bite of supper and a couple of glasses of wine go with the presentations and demonstrations, what's not to like?

And the tech wonders do amaze. After last year's VR, the focus this year is on machine learning, and most of what we're shown has been developed in the past 12 months.

On what Irene Jay Liu - and her boss, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai - call the search giant's "mission to help the news industry" there are routes to data journalism including tracking the movements of fishing boats used for the ICIJ's 'Looting the Seas III' expose (and a $2.2 billion fine), BuzzFeed on spy planes, andProPublica and Jigsaw on hate mail and toxic comment.

In the "useful soon" bracket is the application of Google Docs as a 'poor man's' interview transcription tool (by dictating dialogue to it). Hopefully.

But the young woman getting most of the attention today is Google Assistant, even though it seemed most of those on the visit to Google's Singapore headquarters couldn't remember her name. Google's Monisha Varadan was at pains to explain that Ms Assistant - whose opening greeting was "G'day" and offering of ABC news was the Australian version - should not be confused with one of her personas, Home. Soon she had started a conversation Varadan found it hard to stop, learning among the "incredible" responses that the nearest Thai restaurant was called the Porn Sexy Tycoon. Yes really.

Perhaps it's for that reason that interactions in some markets, we were told, have already outpaced those with Apple Watch.

More usefully (we think) Varadan explained the difference between the direct and conversational interactions you can have with the device - the latter are where you choose from offerings presented to you, as in the case of the Wall Street Journal application - and that these can come through typing, tapping and soon imaging, as well as voice.

And she can play games. One of which Google is particularly proud called Akinator (don't ask us why) can guess the word you're thinking of through a well-structured process of elimination. We just hope she never cheats and listens in.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Irene Jay Liu - mission to help

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