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Google today shared a new demo of Duplex, its conversational AI that makes phone calls on behalf of Google Assistant users, and revealed more details about how the AI will work when speaking to businesses and customers. Initial use cases will involve making hair salon appointments and restaurant reservations.
Tests of the experimental Duplex service will begin in the coming weeks, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email, and will start with simply asking for store hours.
Duplex has been able to handle 80 percent of calls prior to public rollout without the need for human intervention, a spokesperson said.
Beyond a Google AI blog post explaining Duplex’s tech and the demo at the I/O developer conference last month that sparked controversy and conversation, few details have emerged about how Duplex will operate.
Though the video states the new demo is a sample and may differ from actual test calls, it shows for the first time that conversations may begin with “Hi, I’m the Google Assistant …”
Google Assistant introducing itself may seem like a small detail, but following the debut of Duplex many called the technology unethical and irresponsible — in part because the AI system failed to introduce itself as a robot and because it sounded too much like a human.
While the version of Duplex presented onstage in May had no introduction, shortly after the demo a person familiar with the matter informed VentureBeat (and Google employees told other news outlets) that calls placed by Google Assistant with Duplex will begin with the assistant introducing itself as a machine. Many bots — such as Autodesk’s Ava — take steps to ensure users understand they aren’t speaking with a human.
Google uses DeepMind’s WaveNet speech synthesizer to generate a human-like voice and speaking rhythm and incorporate the sorts of informal words often found in human speech, like “um,” “uhh,” and “mhmm.”
The new video demo also shows that once a customer asks Google Assistant to schedule a reservation, the assistant will ask for alternative times and provide updates in a follow-up ping notification 15 minutes after the call takes place.
A company spokesperson did not respond to questions about the number of initial test users or when the service for booking appointments and making calls on a user’s behalf will be made available to businesses.
Businesses that don’t want to receive calls from Google Assistant can opt out during the conversation or by indicating a lack of interest through a businesses online account.
Google is implementing protections against spam and abuse during test runs, a spokesperson said, but no specifics were shared.
While much of the early conversation surrounding Duplex was fueled by a feeling that its voice seemed too natural for robocalls, the initial goal of the technology is to extend AI into phone calls, since six in 10 small businesses have no online reservation system available, according to a survey Google conducted in April.
In time, the real innovation for Duplex might be the facilitation of communication between bots like Google Assistant and the normalization of bots working on the behalf of both businesses and customers.
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