Google Duplex sounds human when it, um, calls to book appointments

Olive Hawkins
May 12, 2018

Speaking at the company's annual Google I/O developer conference at the company's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, Pichai on May 8 described AI as presenting a "huge opportunity" for transforming many fields. The assistant added pauses, "ums" and "mmm-hmms" to its speech in order to sound more human as it spoke with real employees at a hair salon and a restaurant. Over the past two years, Google has integrated Assistant into various products including its Google Home smart speaker. There's still a slightly robotic quality to the voices, and that's true of the new ones.

Google has confirmed that its AI assistant will identify itself as a robot when calling up businesses on behalf of human users.

Google showed off what it said were real phone calls made by Google Duplex. Google consciously decided against giving the assistant a real human background.

In a blog published concurrently with the presentation, Yaniv Leviathan, Principal Engineer, and Yossi Matias, Vice President of Engineering, seem to be simply excited about the potential of their technology, suggesting it is a response to the frustrations inherent in, "having to talk to stilted computerized voices that don't understand natural language". Now the bot successfully completes most conversations and tasks independently.

One co-owner of a San Francisco Bay Area barbershop patronized by some Google employees was a little creeped out by the privacy implications.

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Assistant features for families-powered by Family Link-provides free family-friendly games, activities, and stories from content partners like Disney. And should the people answering at the other end be told that they are talking to a robot? The one can mix and match different components (blocks) to create their own AI systems. Esperanza, however, wondered if the shop would be able to block the calls, and said it "begs the question about whether the conversation is recorded and if the recipient of these automated calls could be aware that they're being recorded".

The WaveNet tool comes from Google subsidiary DeepMind. You can access the Assistant hands-free by voice, but you can also tap and swipe the screen when that's easier. "Google Duplex takes a step in this direction, making interaction with technology via natural conversation a reality in specific scenarios". Smart Displays come integrated with all your favorite Google services like Calendar, Maps, and YouTube.

There are still questions around this process of making a machine speak to humans without identifying itself and Google stands by its word to make the disclosure element part of the deal before it is commercially released. He noted that Google Cloud is a $1 billion-a-quarter business. The new visual design will be available in the Google Assistant app later this year. You'll be able to send text messages, play music and podcasts, and get information without leaving the navigation screen. So, the program Duplex right on the stage called the hairdresser. "We really want it to work in cases, say, if you're a busy parent in the morning and your kid is sick and you want to call for a doctor's appointment". This could mean allowing hearing-impaired mobile users to book appointments over the phone, for example.

After numerous reports of possible ethics violations that include not explicitly offering a differentiation between human and software, Google said they will possibly be addressed in the updates to follow. And for the small businesses which do not have enough customers so that the Digital Assistant can help them make appointments with the customers.

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