Google’s Duplex Now Identifies Itself As A Robot

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai at Google's I/O developer conference, 2018. Credit: Google

The automated appointment-booking service, which uses an AI system to ring businesses, is to begin trials this summer

Google has said it will begin rolling out its Duplex automated appointment-booking service this summer, following an initial demonstration earlier this year that raised a furore.

In the demonstration at the Google I/O developer conference in May, the Duplex AI was heard booking an appointment over the telephone, using a natural-sounding voice that never identified itself as a machine.

The search giant said it is addressing concerns over the use of machines to place such calls, and in recent demonstrations for journalists a more recent version of the system identified itself to call recipients, as well as stating the call was being recorded.

The company said Duplex’s unusual way of communicating, which makes use of verbal signals such as “umms” and “ahs”, isn’t designed to trick people, but was instead a response to the failure of earlier tests.

Credit: Google
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai at Google I/O in May 2018. Credit: Google

AI interaction

Early versions of the system that used a more obviously computerised voice went down badly with those receiving the calls, who often hung up.

While Duplex has now been fine-tuned to sound as much like a human as possible, it also explicitly states that the call is being placed by “Google’s automated booking service” or the “Google Assistant”.

Duplex head of engineering Scott Huffman told reporters that many people took the natural-sounding tone to mean that Duplex had reached near-human intelligence.

In fact, it has only been trained to be able to carry out very narrow tasks, with three planned for introduction in the near future.

Google said it plans to first introduce a programme that uses Duplex to call businesses about their holiday hours, followed by booking a restaurant table, and finally booking a haircut. Only Google partner businesses will receive calls to begin with, and users will be limited as well.

‘Thoughtful’ approach

The company said it was taking a “slow” approach and would aim to be “thoughtful” with how the system was deployed.

Automated calls to particular businesses will be limited to prevent abuse, and businesses will be able to opt out of being called by Duplex entirely, the company said.

The system is also backed up by a human team, which is capable of completing calls if Duplex can’t do so automatically, or if the person receiving the call doesn’t want to be recorded.

Duplex can currently complete four out of five calls on its own, and the percentage is rising as the system gets more real-world training, Google said.