Would you trust a robot to book your hair appointment? Google unveils Duplex feature coming to its AI Assistant that can make phone calls and schedule reservations

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai introduced a new feature coming to the Assistant, called ‘Duplex’, which allows it to call real businesses to schedule appointments
  • When a reservation is made, Assistant will let the user know with a notification 
  • The technology is only rolling out to a limited number of users for now 

Google Assistant is about to get seriously smart. 

At the search giant’s annual I/O developer conference, CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled a new technology called ‘Duplex’ that enables its Google Assistant to make phone calls in real-time with actual humans.

It can book a hair appointment and reserve a table for you at your favorite restaurant, among other things. 

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At Google’s I/O developer conference, CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled a new technology called ‘Duplex’ that enables its Google Assistant to make phone calls in real-time with actual humans

Duplex, which Pichai says the firm has been working on ‘for many years’, will be rolling out to a limited number of users for now. 

Pichai showed off the new technology at the I/O conference, which kicked off on Tuesday in Mountain View, California and runs through Thursday.

In a demo, Google Assistant dials up a local hair salon to schedule an appointment. 

First, a user asks Google Assistant to make them a hair appointment, which prompts Assistant to make the phone call. 

It sounds like any other women talking, but one half of the conversation is being held by Google’s AI-infused digital assistant.   

Google Assistant is able to work out a time and date for the appointment, even when the salon employee says there are no appointments available at the time the Assistant originally suggested. 

Google Assistant is able to work out a time and date for appointments, even when the salon employee says there are no appointments available at the time the Assistant suggested

Google said it used a combination of natural language processing and machine learning, among other technologies, to develop Duplex

The Assistant even replied ‘Mhm’ in a natural, believable way when the employee asked her to wait a moment. 

A second demo showed how Assistant can book a reservation at a restaurant. 

In a live conversation, Assistant is able to field many questions and even knows to ask how long the wait is without being prompted. 

Assistant then sends a notification to the user to let them know that an appointment has been scheduled.  

The technology is poised to bring big changes to how we interact with our voice-activated devices, which is why Google executives told CNET that the firm will ‘proceed with caution’ in rolling out the technology to everyone. 

Google said it used a combination of natural language processing and machine learning, among other technologies, to develop Duplex. 

‘The Assistant can actually understand the nuances of conversation,’ Pichai explained.

‘We are still developing this technology and are working hard to get it right’.  

BATTLE OF THE HOME AI

 Google’s $130 (£105) Home speaker is triggered by the phrase ‘Hey Google’ while Amazon’s Echo uses ‘Alexa’.

Amazon’s smart speaker is available in two versions – the full sized $180 (£145) Echo shown here, and a smaller, $50 (£40) version called the Echo Dot.

Amazon Echo relies on Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Wikipedia, while Google Home uses the company’s own Google Search.

Both Home and Echo are continually listening for commands, though Google and Amazon say nothing gets passed back to them until the speakers hear a keyword — ‘OK, Google’ for Home and ‘Alexa’ for Echo.

Google’s Assistant software is also able to answer follow-up questions on the same topic, in a near-conversation style, but Echo as yet cannot.

However, Amazon’s Alexa software has a wider range of skills on offer that enable it to link up with and control more third-party devices around the home.

A light comes on to remind you that it’s listening.

You can turn off the microphone temporarily, too. 

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