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Google Assistant Will Call Businesses For You Via 'Duplex' (qz.com) 103

At its I/O developer conference today, Google debuted "Duplex," an AI system for accomplishing real world tasks over the phone. "To show off its capabilities, CEO Sundar Pichai played two recordings of Google Assistant running Duplex, scheduling a hair appointment and a dinner reservation," reports Quartz. "In each, the person picking up the phone didn't seem to realize they were talking to a computer. The conversations proceed back-and-forth to find the right time, and confirm what the customer wanted. Even when conversations didn't go as expected, the assistant understood the context, responded appropriately, and carried on the task. (You can listen to the recordings here.)" From the report: It's a far more natural conversation than consumers may be used to with digital assistants. The AI's voice lacks a stilted cadence and comes complete with "ums" and natural pauses (which also helps cover up the fact that it is still processing). It uses the phone's on-board processing, as well as the cloud, to deliver the right response with just the right amount of pause.

Google is taking advantage of its primary asset: data. It trained Duplex on a massive body of "anonymized phone conversations," according to a release. Every scheduling task will have its own problems to solve when arranging a specific type of appointment, but all will be underpinned by Google's massive volume of data from searches and recordings that will help the AI hold a conversation. Still, the technology cannot carry on just any conversation. Even though Duplex can seemingly handle far more context than other systems, it only works within a narrow set of queries (Google hasn't listed all of them yet). And despite releasing six new more natural sounding voices for the Assistant product available today, none approached the humanity of its Duplex example.

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Google Assistant Will Call Businesses For You Via 'Duplex'

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  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:28PM (#56577308) Journal
    1. More ways that Google (and 'partner companies', I'm sure) can track more aspects of your life.
    1a. More opportunities for hackers to pry your personal data from you.
    1b. More opportunities for criminal hackers to commit fraud (fraudulent purchases via hacked 'digital assistant', etc).
    2. More depersonalization of your interactions with other people.
    3. More excuses to avoid interactions with other human beings.
    4. Less opportunities for people to develop their interpersonal skills/be properly socialized.
    • 3. More excuses to avoid interactions with other human beings.

      4. Less opportunities for people to develop their interpersonal skills/be properly socialized.

      Maybe it's just introversion, but avoiding interactions with random other human beings is a massive benefit to this tech.

      And the reason is the "other human beings" lack interpersonal skills (like empathy and courtesy) and particularly the children in starter jobs that tend to answer the phones, no amount of forcing me to interact with assholes is going to make me dread it less.

      • Avoiding people who lack interpersonal skills doesn't help either them or you. Insane.
        • Forcing interaction doesn't help either.

      • Sounds like you're a lot of fun on a first date. :D
        • Thankfully past dating, but it's certainly a much different Risk vs Reward situation than "booking a table at short notice".

          • Not really, without practice, it falls off :)
            • "Without practice"? I think it's way, way, way too much practice in a short time which makes it fall off.

              That or leprosy.

          • Well, for your kids' sake, I certainly hope you're socializing them properly (with real people in person, not so-called 'social media') and not allowing them to become antisocial/socially avoidant hermits. There's already too much of that in the world and it's not a good thing.
        • Just let Google Duplex handle all flirting and dating smalltalk tasks, it's for the best... :-)

          • Just let Google Duplex handle all flirting and dating smalltalk tasks,

            Made me think of this video [vimeo.com] (around 2:45, the guys uses a "wingman" app to help on his date).

            Of course, the creepiest part is a few of the current "big AI companies" probably have the kind of data resource to attempt training this kind of stuff for real.
            (And some like Uber are already training simple systems to spot one-night-stands in their database).

    • by worf_mo ( 193770 )

      2. More depersonalization of your interactions with other people.
      3. More excuses to avoid interactions with other human beings.

      "Have your digital assistant call my digital assistant to schedule an appointment."

    • 1. More ways that Google (and 'partner companies', I'm sure) can track more aspects of your life.

      Meh. Anyone using this is going to be putting the appointment on their Google calendar anyway.

      1a. More opportunities for hackers to pry your personal data from you.

      How so?

      1b. More opportunities for criminal hackers to commit fraud (fraudulent purchases via hacked 'digital assistant', etc).

      How so? Hacking your digital assistant would mean hacking Google's servers. If they can do that, I fail to see how the digital assistant makes anything worse.

      2. More depersonalization of your interactions with other people.

      Yeah, because calling to make appointments really helps you keep in touch with humanity. <sarcasm/>.

      3. More excuses to avoid interactions with other human beings.

      Opportunities to avoid meaningless, content-free, time-wasting interactions with people. Actually, this is just a stopgap. What we really need is f

    • 2. More depersonalization of your interactions with other people.

      3. More excuses to avoid interactions with other human beings.

      Were these supposed to be negatives?

  • Holy abuse potential, Batman!!

    I guess we'll just have to forget about the telephone as an on-balance helpful form of communication..

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Bart [calling]: Is Oliver there?

      Moe: Who?

      Bart: Oliver Klozoff.

      Moe: Hold on, I'll check. Paging Oliver Klozoff! Oliver Klozoff!...

    • I already tend to answer a call only if I have the caller number in my contacts.

      It's maybe rude but I found out that I'm not missing anything, really.

      Anyone I want to potentially contact me has and can use instant messaging apps or even SMS if they're old school.

      And I have a fixed phone only because it comes with the Internet access. It's mostly disconnected. There has been too much abuse of it, for really making you want to use the telephone for anything else than calling businesses for making an app
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Phones haven't been useful for a decade or more.

      People will learn to recognise these things and hang up on them, or at least pass them to their own AI assistant.

      • During the presentation, this was placed as a kind of bridge technology for businesses that don't have a digital reservation system yet. (OpenTable or whatever there is for hairdressers and doctors)

        So as soon as they have something electronic, in place to reserve timeslots, Duplex will be obsolete.

        Related question: Anyone else thought this would have been a fantastic April Fools story?

      • or at least pass them to their own AI assistant

        Or why not just have your AI assistant answering the phone calls from the other AIs. It's the peak of bloated, inefficient, and overly expensive ordering systems. I write systems that can place hundreds of orders a second. These new AI systems will be able to place one order every one hundred seconds.

  • And eventually... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:35PM (#56577336)

    Businesses will use their own digital assistants to answer calls, so we'll end up living in a bizarre alternate universe where computers phone each other and have conversations to schedule our lives. Abbreviated botspeak will eventually supplant standard English, as humans mimic the mannerisms and verbal shortcuts used by impatient digital assistant apps.

    • by waspleg ( 316038 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @09:02PM (#56577824) Journal

      She immediately started talking about debt collectors talking to your digital assistant. I said no the debt collectors will be automated too so it will be them talking at each other.

      They are fucking creepy as hell too.

    • Sounds good to me...

    • Businesses will use their own digital assistants to answer calls, so we'll end up living in a bizarre alternate universe where computers phone each other and have conversations to schedule our lives. Abbreviated botspeak will eventually supplant standard English, as humans mimic the mannerisms and verbal shortcuts used by impatient digital assistant apps.

      I doubt that.

      It's more likely that businesses will just publish a scheduling API, and your digital assistant will recognize that the API is available and use that instead, completing the process in tens of milliseconds. That will be cheaper for everyone, and more convenient for you, since you'll say "Okay Google (or whatever), make me a haircut appointment Wednesday morning at my usual salon" and the assistant will be able to respond instantly "Okay, I've made an appointment for you at 10. Jenny will cut

    • Businesses will use their own digital assistants to answer calls, so we'll end up living in a bizarre alternate universe where computers phone each other and have conversations to schedule our lives. Abbreviated botspeak will eventually supplant standard English, as humans mimic the mannerisms and verbal shortcuts used by impatient digital assistant apps.

      Fine with me. My bot assistant can call and badger the monopoly internet provider trying to get a lower rate from their bot.

      I still won't get a lower rate, but it will be better for my blood pressure ...

  • And despite releasing six new more natural sounding voices for the Assistant product available today, none approached the humanity of its Duplex example.

    There is a big difference in what Google can do and what they can do en masse. You may have also noticed a statement today about efforts in optimizing trained networks. The more complex networks aren't economical to run millions of times a day. Parallel work is under way both in hardware and algorithms to change that.

    Duplex is not being deployed today because the compute costs are high enough that it is not yet economical to deploy.

    Similarly, the voice we hear from the Assistant differs greatly from their best in-house efforts on those same voices. It is from a more energy optimized model.

    An everyday example of this can be self-demonstrated with Google Maps in the driving mode. Some of the voice commands are produced by the server and sound very nice. Others are produced directly on the phone and sound like text to speech engines from previous decades. I'm not sure what the criteria are for using a locally produced direction versus one from the server, perhaps it loses the cell tower for a moment. But, you'll know it when you hear it.

  • The real question: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:37PM (#56577346) Homepage Journal

    Where did they get this body of "anonymized phone conversations"?

    Is it from Google Voice? Is it from Android phones calling home?

    • In Soviet Russia, Android phones you!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is the only question worth asking on this article.

      Seriously? Wtf? We knew the google bastards were evil but now they openly advertise it.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Android does not covertly record calls or transmit them to Google.

      There are companies that collect and curate this stuff from customer service calls (with consent) for training humans.

    • Google Voice asks if you mind if they use your voicemail transcripts to improve the quality of something something something. I really HOPE they were using those! I purposely donated years of voicemail exactly so something like this could one day be created. I would gladly allow Google to monitor everything I say if they can help use it to train AI... my privacy is irrelevant next to the possibilities this creates.

    • I may be mis-remembering this, but the NSA tapped 500M+ pin logs last year based on a court authorization to investigate just 40 people.

    • Almost certainly Google Voice is one source. They have 9 years worth of transcribed voicemails and call recordings to pull from, and I remember them stating things like voice recognition and natural language processing research as uses for such data when you signed up.

      100% they're using data from Google Assistant as well.

      Google has plenty of sources for this kind of data that people have opted in to.
  • Wow, this will save me like five minutes a week!

    Assuming the failure rate isn't horrendous, and then instead of talking to some front-line person with a service incentive to quickly make a reservation or appointment, I'll be talking to an overwhelmed backend support person trying to fix a screw-up. So 19 times out of 20, you'll save 90 seconds, and the other time you'll lose 45 minutes.

    • by zdzichu ( 100333 )

      Every minute saved from speaking with carbon-based meat person is a reason to celebrate!

    • I could have used this feature this week. My local Ford dealer is overwhelmed by a recent recall notice and haven't called me back after leaving two messages to book a service time. Even if they did call me back, it affected my schedule thinking I'd soon get a call back (shower, driving, etc). With Duplex, I'd just have it keep trying until they answered and not impact me as much.
  • Tom Smykowski, he's a people person. I hope you can get downloadable voices.
  • Just turn this loose on the robocallers. It should tie them up for a long time.

  • Google has workedâ"unsuccessfullyâ"for years to make a decent chat app and had to shelve it, but your phone can make appointements for you and might actually confuse people into thinking it's a real person?

  • Sounds like Google is trying to re-enact the scene from the full-length version of Advantageous where the main character finds out her assistant/coach was an AI the whole time.

  • From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

    The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation woul

  • Hello, this is Google Assistant, I assume you are at lunch right now, are you happy with your long distance provider? ....

    • Why assume? Google knows where your phone is. And what you like to eat, and how long it takes. Google *knows* that you are at lunch, have just eaten it, and it is the optimal time to call.

  • Why would Google waste time and effort on a bot that calls a phone to make an appointment? I rather see them invent a system that makes it easy and inexpensive for any business to receive and confirm appointments online. I want to make reservations or a doc appointment at 10 at night. What good does a bot do when at that time only a different bot will be picking up the phone at best?
    • I rather see them invent a system that makes it easy and inexpensive for any business to receive and confirm appointments online.

      There are many of those that already exist. All of them are incompatible with each other, and everyone is pushing their own "standard".

      Place-phone-call is about the closest thing we have to a standard.

      If your response is "Then Google should push it's own standard", 1) they already do, and 2) https://xkcd.com/927/ [xkcd.com]

  • So when my Duplex is talking to some company's bot, it's just two computers communicating at a really really low data rate?
  • Maybe they can get the hours correct finally if they call and ask. POS tells me everything is closed all the time.

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