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Making Sense of the ‘Near-Human’ Google Duplex

As the tech-giant deepens its foray into the virtual assistant space, the jury's still out on how strong a contender Google Duplex really is

Making Sense of the ‘Near-Human’ Google Duplex

Google Duplex was launched during the company’s annual developer conference in May, with a preview of the product. While the product naturally met with all-round interest, there were certain concerns around its privacy challenges.

In the broadest sense, Google Duplex is the key technology driving its new Assistant feature. The product is completely automated and is capable of placing calls, with a completely naturalised human voice – rather than a robotic voice reply – and this is its biggest USP. It can also assimilate and imbibe complex human sentence formations, rapid speech patterns, and lengthy remarks, as per the statement released by Google.

So what can Duplex achieve?

A beta edition is available and being tested by a select set of businesses and users. This can be actioned for the completion of three specific tasks – restaurant reservations, scheduling hair appointments, and extracting data on the holidays hours for businesses. If the business you’re trying to connect with, is ready to accept online reservations, the assistant will complete the task. Otherwise, Duplex/Assistant will directly call the business on your behalf, and carry out the conversation with surprisingly ‘human’ intonations.

Unboxing Google Duplex

Importantly, Google Duplex will begin every conversation with a declaration stating that it is not human, and is Google’s automated booking feature, with the announcement that it will record the call. Regardless of the exact structure of this disclosure – which may change over time – Google Duplex will consistently announce that it is an automated system, ensuring a degree of transparency and pragmatic implementation. However, it must be noted that this was a highly contentious issue during its preview, since Duplex failed to carry out the above.

As in most cases, there is a human safety valve, in case the conversation takes a more complex turn. Google’s personal executives will step in the moment something goes a little off-script; while they may not always be listening to every call in progress, Duplex can action a signal/alert, if it is held back by any sudden eventuality.

What are its benefits?

Businesses which primarily rely on appointment bookings, and are currently supported by Duplex, can utilise the product to help customers connect with them, via the Assistant – with zero need to alter everyday tasks or daily practices. Duplex will also help monitor and contain cancellations, by reminding customers about upcoming appointments.

Further, other benefits include targeted communication with service providers, such as reservation requests during off-periods, or in scenarios with minimal connectivity.

Opinions – are you ready for Google Duplex?

Obviously, this is a highly dynamic space, with every player, big or small, looking at introducing new and improved virtual assistants. Google’s entry into this high-impact, high-frequency market bodes well, with the bar being pushed further.

However, its best to watch this space, and see what the product is really capable of doing (beyond just these three use-cases) before coming to any singular conclusion. While a near-human AI assistant has incredible possibilities in, say, customer support and contact centre applications, Google limiting the technology to consumer use, for now. But yes, at first glance, this sounds like an exciting proposition.


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