Google has demonstrated an AI assistant that can make phone calls on your behalf, speaking to the human on the other end of the line. The company showed off the capability by playing a recording of a phone call it claims was between its chatbot and a hair salon:
Onstage at I/O 2018, Google showed off a jaw-dropping new capability of Google Assistant: in the not too distant future, it's going to make phone calls on your behalf. CEO Sundar Pichai played back a phone call recording that he said was placed by the Assistant to a hair salon. The voice sounded incredibly natural; the person on the other end had no idea they were talking to a digital AI helper. Google Assistant even dropped in a super casual "mmhmmm" early in the conversation.
Pichai reiterated that this was a real call using Assistant and not some staged demo. "The amazing thing is that Assistant can actually understand the nuances of conversation," he said. "We've been working on this technology for many years. It's called Google Duplex."
There is already a debate about whether this is a good idea:
Google Duplex: Good or Evil?
A number of soylentils have written in to let us know that Google is opening up the possibility of being evil by eliminating it from their code of conduct. You've been warned.
"Don't be Evil" Starting to Disappear From Google's Code of Conduct
Google's unofficial motto has long been the simple phrase "don't be evil." But that's over, according to the code of conduct that Google distributes to its employees. The phrase was removed sometime in late April or early May, archives hosted by the Wayback Machine show.
[...] The updated version of Google's code of conduct still retains one reference to the company's unofficial motto—the final line of the document is still: "And remember... don't be evil, and if you see something that you think isn't right – speak up!"
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In a restaurant in Mountain View, California yesterday, Google gave several small groups of journalists a chance to demo Duplex. If you don't recall, Duplex is the AI system designed to make human-sounding voice calls on your behalf so as to automate things like booking restaurant tables and hair appointments. In the demo, we saw what it would be like for a restaurant to receive a phone call — and in fact each of us in turn took a call from Duplex as it tried to book a reservation.
The briefings were in service of the news that Google is about to begin limited testing "in the coming weeks." If you're hoping that means you'll be able to try it yourself, sorry: Google is starting with "a set of trusted tester users," according to Nick Fox, VP of product and design for the Google Assistant. It will also be limited to businesses that Google has partnered with rather than any old restaurant.
The rollout will be phased, in other words. First up will be calls about holiday hours, then restaurant reservations will come later this summer, and then finally hair cut appointments will be last. Those are the only three domains that Google has trained Duplex on.
The demos we saw had many of the same elements that made the original demonstration at Google IO so impressive: the voice sounded much more human than normal, complete with ums and ahhs. It also featured something we didn't hear last May: each call started with an explicit statement that the call was being recorded. There were a few variations on the disclosure, but they all included some indication that you were talking to a machine and the call was being recorded. For example, one call began with "Hi, I'm calling to make a reservation. I'm Google's automated booking service, so I'll record the call. Uh, can I book a table for Sunday the first?"
Also at Ars Technica.
Google is reportedly shopping its Duplex AI system around as a tool for call centers, according to The Information, including a large insurance company.
Duplex would handle simple calls for the insurance company, and if the customer started asking complex questions the bot can't handle a human would step in, according to the report. However, it's unlikely that AI research will cease after mastering simple conversations, meaning call centers could one day be largely automated using this technology.
[...] Update: A Google spokesperson reiterated that Duplex is only being tested as a consumer technology for now, and that the company isn't testing it for enterprise. The entire statement is below:
We're currently focused on consumer use cases for the Duplex technology and we aren't testing Duplex with any enterprise clients. As we shared last week, Duplex is designed to operate in very specific use cases, and currently we're focused on testing with restaurant reservations, hair salon booking, and holiday hours with a limited set of trusted testers. It's important that we get the experience right and we're taking a slow and measured approach as we incorporate learnings and feedback from our tests.