AI

Though AI has made many leaps, one of its biggest moments was at Google’s I/O conference earlier this year. The search engine giant unveiled a piece of technology straight from the future; an AI that can make phone calls for you.

Named Duplex, that feature is starting to roll out, albeit in a limited form. Pixel users in select U.S. cities are able to make restaurant reservations with some simple voice or text command.

So far, the testing is limited to Phoenix, New York, Atlanta, and San Fransico. The Google Assistant will default to online book if it’s available, and call if not. However, it’s the realism of the voice that impressed more than the functionality. Duplex sounded very human, even using fillers like ‘um’ during conversation and working around some difficult scenarios.

Privacy Concerns

So far, it seems that has transferred to the final product. Google has taken pains to make Duplex less invasive, though, noting that it’s a computer and the call will be recorded.

Either way, Duplex is likely to be a big aid for users who are strapped for time. On the business side of things, it seems restaurants can opt out of Duplex calls if they wish. It would almost always be preferable for them to talk to a human, but Duplex could mean they get reservations they wouldn’t otherwise.

Once a reservation is complete, users will get a confirmation email within 15 minutes, and they’ll also show up in a ‘My Reservations’ screen. However, with the current system, Google limits cancellations. If you book with Duplex and then cancel, you won’t be able to rebook for another 12 to 24 hours. Cancel too many, and you’ll be booted out of Duplex completely.

It’ll be interesting to see how many businesses are happy to converse with the assistant, or if they’ll simply hang up as soon as they realize. In cases where businesses say they don’t want to be recorded, one of Google’s human operators will take over.

In China, Microsoft’s Xiaoice chatbot has similar capabilities and has held full conversations with over 600,000 people in China. Her capabilities are now open to developers.