When Google debuted Duplex this past summer, the virtual assistant made headlines because of the eerily natural way in which the artificial intelligence (AI) interacted with humans. The company showed Duplex purportedly making a restaurant reservation that was complete with saying “ummms” and “ahhhs” as it was “thinking.”
Duplex is now being rolled out into the wild on “select” Google Pixel phones. Over the holiday break, Venturebeat reporter Emil Protalinksi recorded a video of Duplex making a reservation with a human host at Cafe Prague in San Francisco. Check it out below.
Despite some overly-long pauses, the result is a very natural-sounding conversation between a human and a computer (even on speaker in a noisy restaurant!). It’s quite impressive, and if you were just hearing the audio, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it wasn’t a person.
Protalinzki’s Duplex call starts off saying that it is calling to make a reservation for a client, that the call was coming from Google and may be recorded. This is, no doubt, something Google added in response to the backlash it received when it first showed off Duplex. There was a lot of hand-wringing over the ethical issues surrounding an AI assistant “tricking” humans on the other end of the line.
Restaurant workers we spoke with at the time said they wouldn’t care if it was an AI calling to make a reservation… as long as it didn’t take any longer than dealing with a human. They don’t want a dumb AI gumming up their workflow, taking too long to figure out the answer to a simple question.
The VentureBeat video didn’t show some of the more complicated questions that an AI assistant will have to deal with; questions other than just what time and how many. For example, the restaurant host may ask if there are any food allergies or if there is a special event being celebrated.
And as I wrote earlier, with robots becoming more normal in restaurants, it’s only a matter of time before eateries adopt their own AI assistants. We are already seeing that type of technology being developed by companies like Clinc, which makes conversational AI assistants for QSR drive-throughs.
At some point reservations will happen in the background as your AI assistant talks to the restaurant’s AI assistant to make your reservations. Hopefully they won’t gossip about what I order.