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GM Thought of the Week – Google Duplex – The future of communication or an unnecessary purpose?

This week marked a key conference from Google to showcase their developments of AI, including the highly impressive autocomplete system on Gmail that saves the effort of ever having to personalize messages again.


But there was one demonstration that has managed to capture the imagination of millions. Google showed off an update of their Google Assistant, which within the demo, the new system was able to call a restaurant and a hairdresser, and book a table and an appointment, without the user on the other end of the line ever knowing they were speaking to an algorithm of a machine. In the incredibly fluid conversation, the Assistant talks just like a human would!


First, Google Assistant called a hairdresser and booked an appointment. When the human hairdresser said that they didn’t have a free appointment, the Assistant even added in ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ in order to make itself appear more human.


When told there were no appointments for the time “the client” had requested, the AI seamlessly offered up alternatives and even added in several thinking noises in order to make it appear more natural.


The demo goes on to call a restaurant. Despite the restaurant staff mishearing the AI, Google’s Duplex technology managed to keep the conversation on track, showing off some unbelievable leaps in language understanding in the process.


The whole conversation was astonishingly and virtually indistinguishable from a conversation between two humans.


“The amazing thing is that Assistant can actually understand the nuances of conversation,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained at the conference.


“We’ve been working on this technology for many years. It’s called Google Duplex. It brings together natural language understanding, deep learning, text to speech.”


“Instead of making a phone call, the user simply interacts with the Google Assistant. The call happens completely in the background without any user involvement.”


Google will conduct tests of the Duplex Assistant in the summer, but they have big plans for it to automate day to day mundane tasks.


While most are no doubt astonished by the new technology, the media were quick to point out that Google did not disclose to people on the other end of the calls that the caller was a computer program, not a person, even though it did sound surprisingly natural.


While the likes of Google Home and Amazon Alexa are becoming increasingly popular across the globe, this type of helpful tech is no doubt the future, in our time poor society. But will there really become a time when we need technology to cover one of the most basic of human function – a conversation or exchange between two humans? And if this technology does take off, surely people would treat automated calls in a different way than they would human ones. Two days after the presentation, Google, clarified that it will make sure to let people know whenever it’s the Assistant calling and not an actual person. So I beg the question – will this really take off?


Alex Smith , Director of Business Development