in Opinion

Will Google Duplex Even Matter in a Few Years?

As a language teacher I found the Google Duplex demo utterly fascinating. The litter mannerisms, and speaking devices employed are not 100% natural for speakers and really helped to aid communication in this case. But there are some things about it I found interesting.

The first was the single moment where the assistant didn’t seem the most natural to me. It was when the person in the salon asked for a name and the assistant replied “the first name is Lisa”. Personally I’d expect an assistant to say “her name is…” or “the clients name is…” or just state her name. “It’s Lisa, …” However I was paying attention for moments which didn’t seem natural and this was the only one I could spot. I’d bet that it would pass me by in real life. (Having listening a couple more times, I actually think the initial up-tick “uh-hu” was a bit unnatural as well but as I already mentioned, I could be looking for faults here).

Computers talking to computers

The thing I really started to wonder about was the potential to have AI assistants talking to other AI assistants. After all, we already have computerized systems at some cinemas and other services which can take bookings, imagine the google assistant trying to call one of those. Suddenly all the attempts to make the assistant sound and act more human seem utterly bizarre.

Will Duplex be redundant soon?

In fact, that makes me wonder about the need for an assistant to call a person at all. Sure this may well be a short term in-between step but the next logical point is to have an API or web service where bookings can be made automatically. We already have tools like calendly and similar to book appointments, if they could tie into google services then making a call would be a waste of time.

[Having written that, looking at the Duplex blog shows how they are using it to find out open times during holidays and so on. A function like this could be highly valuable for Google who’s business is data, especially for a (small) company that isn’t as tech savvy.]

A couple of final thoughts, I wonder how this will really work in practice. Google has put out many incredible demos over time but some have fallen well short of the on stage demo or simply not come out. I also wonder if people will really use this service and how it could potentially go wrong. For example, you’d need to block off and times you can’t be out of work/studying in your calendar and would you really trust the assistant to book a hair appointment at a time you’d like. What if it saw a gap at 5pm but that’s after you’ve gone home, you really only want the appointment in the morning when you’re close to the hairdressers naturally. How easy would it be to explain these requirements to the assistant and trust it will carry them out.

Cool Google, Creepy Google

Honestly, this demo was truly incredible and shows Google at its best (and creepiest). I really wonder how it will work out in practice though.


Greg of GR36 pointed out that there are accessibility potential implications from Google Duplex. have a listen here now that’s a pretty interesting and I can certainly see how this could make duplex useful in the longer term rather than just booking a table.

I still believe that booking a table at a restaurant (which was the main push of Google’s explanation of the technology) won’t be useful in the long term. It is interesting that helping busy people was the main push of Google’s marketing drive (perhaps because they feel this is the majority of people) but surely an accessibility push would have been a more persuasive message that would have circumvented a lot of the creepy criticism that Google has brought on themselves.

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