Lots of people have heard of or even use the Google Assistant. However at least to me at first, I really didn’t consider the actual name as anything that pertinent. Apple calls theirs Siri, Amazon calls theirs Alexa… Google can call it whatever it wants.
However Google called it the Assistant for a very straight forward reason, their plan is for it to become your literal assistant.
To help with this they developed Tacotron 2 as described in an earlier piece we did here. In it, it was near impossible to tell which sound recording was a human reading out text or the Tacotron 2 AI.
Since then Google has teamed this new, more advanced natural language speaking AI with much of their other information to create Google Duplex. This new product can actually make real time calls with businesses, talk to the person on the other end with naturally sounding language, hold the conversation and make various appointments for you.
The person at the business essentially has no idea that they’re talking to an AI.
The name “Duplex” no doubt comes from the telecommunications field where it is used for half duplex or full duplex. If you imagine you’re talking to someone on the phone, half duplex means that only one person can speak at a given time. This is like the “push-to-talk” walkie-talkies and is obviously quite old technology.
Full duplex systems on the other hand enable both people to speak at the same time. This is what you have access to anytime you make a normal phone call. I’m guessing the name “Google Full Duplex” didn’t really sound too catchy so they just dropped the “Full” part.
At any rate Google Duplex is remarkably convincing. It throws in “umms” and “mmhmm” to naturally cover up required pauses or to make things less awkward. It can handle people speaking broken English to it or even just confusing dialogue.
The best way to get an idea of how impressive it is, is to watch it in action at the Google I/O Keynote.
Now there’s a big difference between a pre-recorded demo and a live product rollout but according to Sundar Pichai, this will be rolling out as an experiment over the coming weeks.
There has been quite a large backlash on the Internet about it though as many believe that “tricking” a person into thinking they’re speaking with a real person instead of an AI is wrong. Like all technologies I think it ultimately comes down to how you use it rather than the technology itself being inherently “wrong”.
(Google Duplex scheduling a hair salon appointment)
But for me personally, if an AI is intelligent enough to sound exactly like a human being and also hold a conversion with me without me being able to tell… then I’d be delighted to converse with it and give it the respect I’d give any other person.
As many others have also pointed out, this AI is polite, doesn’t raise its voice or insult you. Being in customer service throughout my life I can assure you that isn’t always the case for humans.
While many are quick to defend the businesses and say that Google Duplex shouldn’t be used… they might ultimately find that the businesses actually prefer speaking to the AI’s! After all, it wouldn’t be the first time people have demonstrated that they prefer using a robot than a human.
(Google Duplex calling a restaurant)
Many people prefer to book things online rather than have to call up. Others prefer using the self checkout machine at the supermarket as it’s quicker and there’s not chit chat or fuss. I can’t even remember the last time I physically talked to a person at my bank.
Regardless the technology is exceedingly impressive. The Google Duplex team should be highly commended on their amazing work and I can’t wait to have intelligent, meaningful and productive conversations with the Google Assistant in the future. I’m sure it will be far better than screaming at those useless phone IVR systems that ask you to “just say what service you’re after”!
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