How the Gmail “Smart Reply” feature should really work

Graphic: Gmail

In May, mobile Gmail added “Smart Reply,” which reads your email and suggests replies. But hitting a button that says “OK” isn’t much easier than typing “OK” and hitting send. Given the progress of Google’s A.I. technology, it’s going to get smarter. Here’s a peek into the near future:

Meeting request

From: Project leader

To: [group of 17 people on project]

Subject: Weekly status update meeting

Please join us from 8:00-9:30 am Monday in conference room “Nickelback” — be prepared to share your progress and raise questions. Please respond to this message to confirm your attendance.

Gmail suggested replies

  • Thanks! I’ll be there! Excited to be on this project with these talented people. Want me to bring coffee and doughnuts for everyone? [Barks excitedly, wags tail.]
  • Please put this item first on the agenda: Discussion of need for weekly status meetings.
  • My project update is attached. Should you have any questions, my assistant has my mobile number, and she will be back from vacation next week.
  • Regrettably, I must be absent on Monday due to a prior commitment to have my Shar Pei wormed/have a colonoscopy/drive my 24-year-old to community college. See you at noon.

Press release

From: PR agency

To: [mailing list of 750 people]

Re: [Embargo until August]Ploopr announces addition of SEO-Compatible, Cloud-Based, Agile Machine Learning to Award-Winning Backup Utility

Today Ploopr corporation announced the release of BackUpAndReStoreWizArd 2.88 with new features including . . . .

Gmail suggested replies

  • Please send me a discount code so I can evaluate the product or sell the login on Craigslist.
  • I have now asked you to remove me from your mailing list four times. Now sending package of pasteurized, artisanally treated bullshit by mail.
  • Please follow up with your and your spouse’s mobile phone numbers in case I need to contact you while you are on vacation.
  • I don’t accept embargoes. This announcement will shortly appear on my Forbes blog.
  • Thanks for the update. My top client, your biggest competitor, was fascinated to read it.

Customer Service Survey

From: Customer Service

To: [you]

Re: Reminder: Please rate your experience

Thank you for buying a small household item from us. How was your experience? Please take this 23-question survey and help us out.

Gmail suggested replies

  • [Fills out survey with random numbers.]
  • Please send payment of $150 gift certificate for PornHub to compensate me for time spent filling out survey.
  • I’m glad you sent this. While I don’t have time to fill out the survey, I have a product complaint. When I plugged it into a 240-volt outlet using alligator clips and solder, it caught on fire and burned down my bungalow. Perhaps you should include a warning? Other than that, it’s now working perfectly as a space heater in my trailer home.
  • That was fun. Got any other surveys?

Event invitation

From: Event organizer

To: [you]

Re: Please speak at Social Content Optimization World

I’ve been impressed with your work, including your latest blog post. Now I’d like you to be on a panel in one of seven tracks at our event, which is taking place on Monday, January 3 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. We cannot pay for travel, hotel, or anything else, but we will provide a 25% discount off the attendance fee of CAD$1779.50. The other speakers at the event are C-list bloggers similar to yourself.

Gmail suggested replies

  • Thanks! I’m preparing 73 slides on my topic “Social Content Optimization and Pinterest SEO for Health Insurers and B2B Customer Service Reps” to present off my Commodore Amiga.
  • I would be happy to speak, provided you can compensate me for round-trip train travel from Tulsa, Oklahoma and lodgings in a travel hostel/transient hotel.
  • Would you consider providing attendees with copies of my self-published print-on-demand paperback “How to Set Up A Home Ganja-by-Mail Business”?
  • Regrettably, I cannot attend. I am already booked at Content and Social Optimization World in Calgary, Alberta for the same week.

Reply All Fail

From: [Smartass]

To: [Corporate mailing list]

Re: Re: Re: Re: Company outing postponed

You idiots are using reply-all to reply to this message which is cluttering up my inbox. Please don’t use Replay All! It clutters up my inbox!

On Friday, Marie Curie wrote:

Don’t Reply All please.

On Friday, Alfred N. Whitehead wrote:

Why do I keep getting more copies of this message?

On Thursday, Stephen Hawking wrote . . . 


Gmail suggested replies

  • No, you stop cluttering up my inbox.
  • As long as you’re all on this email thread, I’d like to complain about the person who was microwaving salmon-glazed popcorn in the 3rd-floor microwave at 1:45 every afternoon last week.
  • Make America Great Again.
  • [sound of Nerf machine gun being loaded with 10-penny nails]


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  1. Hey, Josh, you baited me with a serious teaser and then switched to an unnecessarily long and repetitive joke. Okay, I get it, I get it. Was the point to show us how clever you are as a stand-up? Perhaps I’m a lone voice here, but I look to you for insights written with wit and whimsy. I would have preferred that you addressed head-on the issue you raised, and not exposed us to a display of how much you love your own writing. Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.

    1. Shlomo

      My reply to today’s WOBS post seems to have been deleted. I wonder why this happened?

      It was much more poorly written than yours, but I was driving at the same point.

      I replied, “meh.” By it I meant the post was not worthy of Josh’s time, or mine.

      I wonder if this reply will get the same treatment as my first. Even if it does, I plan to continue to read WOBS.



      1. Tom — I deleted “meh” because, like most blogs, my policy on comments is to delete comments that don’t add to the conversation. “Meh,” like “great” or “awful,” doesn’t add much. Your new comment is better. I’ll attempt to live up to your expectations.

      1. Josh Bernoff! Goodness me! Did you actually write that Reply, Josh, or was it generated as an Auto-Response to criticism you don’t have the interest in dealing with? Why imagine if President Donald J. Trump had tweeted the same words you used to form the platitudes of your Reply to justify and defend his Twitteritis? My God, you would have had a field day! By wiggling out of the criticism and coming up with some formulaic and lifeless language like you did, you indicate to your readers that they shouldn’t be taken too seriously. So why thank us for our perspective if you don’t even give a shit to actually address it? Your ‘gratitude’ was, and is, hollow and meaningless. …Meh.

        1. Let’s make a deal, Shlomo. You don’t call me Trump, and I won’t call you a troll.

          In my attempt to create a bit of dry wit, I used a deadpan title to gain people’s interest. If you want to call that clickbait, that’s up to you, but I don’t consider it clickbait.

          My intent is never to show that I am clever, but to intrigue the reader. Your criticism was that I didn’t enlighten — which wasn’t my intent in this post — and that I wasted the reader’s time. The people who shared this on Facebook and Twitter didn’t think I wasted their time — you did. Chacun a son gout.

          Criticism — as I practice it — requires addressing the content and what’s weak about it. You didn’t do that, so there is nothing to respond to. My response is at the level of your critique. You said I wasted your time. I said some people liked it. There is nothing in your critique to address; it contains nothing more cogent and insightful than your original “meh.”

          1. Sorry, Josh, but first things first. To set the record straight, the original “meh” was not mine. You are mixed-up. It was Tom’s. (I never heard the word before Tom.) Read each Reader Reply carefully before you send out your own. No excuses here.

            But more to the point, your Blog headline promised to enlighten. No other way to read it. That you had no intention to make good on that promise is what made it ‘click bait’ to the point where the headline became, in effect, “fake news” until we had to see it was a joke. So I very definitely addressed the content and what was weak about it. Maybe you could have headlined, “Pardon me for my trollish take on the Gmail Smart Reply.”

            As far as my claim that your first Reply to me could have been written word for word by President Donald J. Trump to justify his outbursts, hey, man, I’m sorry for getting under your skin, but if the shoe fits, wear it. And if that means you want to retaliate by calling me a troll instead of wrestling with the comparison I made, well, you know, sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me. At least you forced me to look up the word “troll” in the context of today’s Internet and learn something new. And for that, I am grateful Thank you for your perspective.

  2. Hey Josh and Shlomo, please back off. Lets put today’s WOBS post in the ‘not up to his usual high standards’ category and move on. A couple of normally enthusiastic WOBS readers weren’t impressed. I’ll bet tomorrow’s post will be better.

    And Shlomo, according to an on line search, “meh” means:

    expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm.
    “Meh. I’m not impressed so far”
    uninspiring; unexceptional.
    “a lot of his movies are … meh”

    In terms of a survey, it would rank as:

    terrible pretty bad somewhat bad meh ok pretty good fantastic

  3. I apologize for confusing the two of you.

    While it was not my intent to create clickbait, I apologize to anyone who felt I did a bait and switch. My principle is to deliver what I promise, so I have to make sure I do that.

    I will continue to try to have fun here from time to time. I hope you do the same.

    1. Sounds good to me, Josh! Thanks for the apology AND for teaching me the term, “clickbait.” In one afternoon, I learn clickbait, ‘troll’ and meh. Not bad, guys!