I’ve seen the future and it has a name - Google Duplex. This is a new technology to be used initially in Google Assistant. The Duplex technology is now claimed to understand complex sentences, fast speech, and long remarks. You can see it above – it is amazing.
Onstage at I/O on May 8 2018, Google demoed the new capability of Google Assistant. CEO Sundar Pichai played back a phone call recording that he said was placed by the Assistant to a hair salon. The spoken voices sounded incredibly natural, if American, and it appeared that the person on the other end had no idea they were talking to a digital AI helper. Google Assistant even dropped in a cool “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.”
Duplex really sounds like it is the way forward, but Google’s chief executive said it’s still very much under development. Google plans to conduct early testing of Duplex inside Assistant this summer “to help users make restaurant reservations, schedule hair salon appointments, and get holiday hours over the phone.”
Pichai says the Assistant can react intelligently even when a conversation “doesn’t go as expected” and veers off course a bit from the given objective. “We’re still developing this technology, and we want to work hard to get this right,” he said. “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.” (So it clearly won't work with the NHS then!)
“The technology is directed towards completing specific tasks, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. For such tasks, the system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine.” Google envisions other use cases like having Assistant call businesses and inquire about their hours to help keep Maps listings up to date. The company says it wants to be transparent about where and when Duplex is being used, as a voice that sounds this realistic and convincing is certain to raise some questions.”
When this technology is robust it is clearly the next big "must have" for phone systems. Google will converse with Google and make reservations for real people. The long held SF fantasy is about to become real. I can't wait to try it out and incorporate it into our phone systems.
David Hill May 2018
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