Artificial intelligence has come a long way in recent years, and while there are still gaps in what the consumer implementations of these systems can accomplish, companies like Google are charging full speed ahead towards a future where AI may be able to pass for human.
While applications like Google Assistant can do things like make reminders, google information, and even control a smart home, it’s blatantly obvious to any onlooker that it’s a robotic presence that provides canned – albeit useful – responses. It’s quite possible in the vast majority of situations at this point to tell the difference between a robot and a human even if they’re providing the exact same information – and that’s largely due to the intonations of the human voice.
Google Duplex seeks to blur the lines between AI and human interaction, and at a I/O earlier this year we saw the utility in action, making a call to a hair salon to make an appointment and responding dynamically.- passing near perfectly as a human.
For those of us who really hate phone calls, having Google Duplex do all the legwork could be a godsend, and it appears as if the feature is far enough along in development that the company is ready to push the feature live to a select group of testers that Google trusts with the technology.
Google Duplex Demonstration
The most recent update we got regarding Google Duplex was at a restaurant in Mountain View, California yesterday, where the company gave several groups of journalists the chance to demo the feature. Following this demo, Nick Fox, VP of product and design for the Google Assistant , announced that testing would begin “in the coming weeks” for businesses with which Google has partnered.
The first phase of testing will be calls regarding holiday hours, and later this summer restaurant reservations will be supported. Finally, hair appointments will be added – rounding out the three domains that Google Duplex is currently trained on.
One thing that many critics will be pleased to see is the inclusion of an alert at the beginning of the call that the conversation is being recorded. This is mentioned casually in a conversational tone as not to alarm the recipient of the call, and it is made clear that they are talking to Google Duplex, but it’s a welcome addition for those who cited concerns regariding people not being aware they were speaking to a machine.
One of the key ways that Google Duplex sets itself apart from other artificial intelligences and assistants is the natural way in which it talks – adding in a number of “ahhs,” and “umms,” in order to mimic human speech. It turns out that these sorts of interruptions and hesitations are an important part of human speech and keeping a conversation between two people progressing forward.
VP of engineering for the Google Assistant Scott Huffman identified these tics as “speech disfluencies,” and stated that the idea of their importance came from a branch of linguistics known as “pragmatics” – a field covering the non-word communications that happen in human speech.
”Google has invented a lot of things” Huffman said, “but we did not invent ums and aahs.”
Google Duplex will also be backed up by a human operator for situations in which people do not want to be recorded or the utility struggles to accomplish its task, ensuring that users of the feature should have their tasks accomplished uninhibited.
In the presentation, Fox emphasized that the company is aware of potential issues that could arise with Google Duplex and that their behavior with the application comes out of the recently published Google “core AI principles.” We’re going to be very slow, very careful, and very thoughtful as we go here.”
“We want to be very respectful of the businesses we’re working with,” he asserted.
Google Duplex will be run through Google Assistant, and as a user you can exercise a good amount of control over how the application functions. When you set up the device, for example, you can give the app information on the sort of details you will allow it to release. You could refuse to give out your phone number or email, for example – ensuring that no one ends up with personal details you’re not comfortable revealing.
Initial testing at this event was positive, but there are certainly issues with the program that need to be ironed out. The AI isn’t perfect, and there are situations in which it will still need the assistance of a human operator – making it a solid idea for Google to back the system up with a real human behind the call.
There’s currently no word on when the full app will release, but limited testing should begin for select restaurants shortly.