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Google AI Businesses

Google Won't Confirm If Its Human-Like AI Actually Called a Salon To Make an Appointment As Demoed at I/O (axios.com) 95

The headline demo at Google's I/O conference earlier this month continues to be a talking point in the industry. The remarkable demo, which saw Google Assistant call a salon to successfully fix an appointment, continues to draw skepticism. News outlet Axios followed up with Google to get some clarifications only to find that the company did not wish to talk about it. From the report: What's suspicious? When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn't happen when the Google assistant called these "real" businesses. Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants -- including some in Google's hometown of Mountain View -- and every one immediately gave the business name.

Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant, in order to verify both that the businesses exist and that the calls were not pre-planned. We also said that we'd guarantee, in writing, not to publicly identify either establishment (so as to prevent them from receiving unwanted attention). A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

We also asked if either call was edited, even perhaps just cutting the second or two when the business identifies itself. And, if so, were there other edits? The spokeswoman declined comment, but said she'd check and get back to us. She didn't.

Google Won't Confirm If Its Human-Like AI Actually Called a Salon To Make an Appointment As Demoed at I/O

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  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @12:50PM (#56627728)

    Wow a rigged demo? Those never happen. Couldn't possibly be that it doesn't work perfectly and that they made a pre-recorded and staged demo.

    • Oh come on - next thing you'll claim is that Sergei didn't actually skydive to the top of the auditorium where Google I/O was being held a couple years ago...

    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:02PM (#56627788)

      However you feel about MS, they famously didn't rig demos. I mean, it resulted in a BSOD for Gates onstage at CES, but they didn't rig them.

      And, frankly, a pre-recorded demo (as opposed to a highly tested demo) is pretty deceptive. Or would you like to invest in my business. I'll show you it correctly predicting stock prices 10 minutes in advance. Of course, I recorded it yesterday...

      • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:37PM (#56628042)

        However you feel about MS, they famously didn't rig demos.

        All the Kinect demos, Holo Lens demos, etc. were fake as fuck.
        Even your standard "Some devs / media whores play the game live" demos are typically staged. They literally have meat puppets on stage holding a controller and pretending to play the game and pretending to react to it, while a video of the alleged gameplay is shown on the giant screens behind them.

        • by grumbel ( 592662 )

          All the Kinect demos, Holo Lens demos, etc. were fake as fuck.

          When Kudo demoed Kinect (then Project Natal) on stage at E3 his avatar turned into a pretzel [youtube.com]. The fancy product videos of Project Natal were fake, but the state demo was pretty genuine at demonstrating the shortcomings of the product.

          With Hololens they cheated on the FOV, but otherwise got pretty close to the actual product. All the room scanning and hand tracking is in the actual product. That RoboRaid game [youtube.com] with the robots crawling out of the wall and over your furniture is available on Hololens, framerate

        • We're /. geeks, we still see the "old Microsoft" whenever we talk about that company.

          The parent poster isn't refering to the recent gaming business of MS.
          The comment was about the numerous time Bill Gate was on stage / on live TV trying to demo some Microsoft software product, and the product blew him in the face with a crash/BSOD/whatever.
          You can say tons of bad things about Microsoft back-then (with EEE appreaing very oftenin the discussions), but at least they weren't faking their demo.

          • Or they where faking it and still that where the best one they could show :-)
          • by Anonymous Coward

            We will always remember: The Halloween Documents, Embrace Extend & Extinguish tactics, Stacker/DoubleSpace, Never Partner with M$, .... (entire bookshelves can be written on this)

            Sadly, pages like [wikipedia.org] these [techrights.org] are usually just covering tip of the iceberg.

            365 will be the hardest blow to most dinosaur businesses who are just too willing to give away their Gold (read "data" that they don't/can't afford to analyse themselves).

      • by antdude ( 79039 )

        Don't forget Apple. I remember some videos showing issues in front of Steve Jobs and the viewers. ;)

      • EVERYBODY rigs demos. Everybody.

    • I think Google should finally fess up to being that "Windows Support" guy, who keeps calling me, saying that I need to download a Windows Fix immediately!

      He's always disappointed when I inform him that I use a MacBook Pro now. I had a ThinkPad in a former life, that I needed to send in for repairs for a broken Ethernet port.

      After that, his calls started coming. Now . . . where is he getting phone numbers from . . . ?

      I am not enthused when I think Google Assistance may be soon making these calls . . .

      • It's just random spam, and somehow your number got on a sucker list, probably because you actually answered and engaged them.

        I know, my 90 year old mother keeps getting them too. And she runs linux! :)

    • This could well have been just two ladies reading from a script -- if so that's the cheapest demo in the history of high profile demos. My hats off to Google for that!

    • "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo."
          -James Klass

  • I'm Shocked!!!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oldgraybeard ( 2939809 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @12:50PM (#56627732)
    Marketing dweebs for a business stretccccch the truth.

    Marketing dweebs are like government bueacrat dweebs and political dweebs. How can you tell they are lying, their lips are moving!

    Just my 2 cents ;)
  • Maybe Google is also testing an AI spokeswoman that always declines to comment.

  • Where is the SEC? If someone knew this was BS intended to move the price and sold stock...felony.

  • Ok, I suppose its better than 9/10 stories about bitcoin.

  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:22PM (#56627942) Homepage Journal
    I always assume these demos are fake, but there is nothing impossible (or even "AI") to make this software work. It is essentially a voice recognition program with an algorithm that knows the likely paths these types are calls take and follows a loose script and adjusts based on the responses. It is more of an expert system. The voice synthesizer is good, because it doesn't need to form arbitrary sentences.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is more of an expert system.

      An expert system is basically the paradigmatic example of AI. If that's what it is, how can you claim there's no AI?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        110010001000 does not understand the definition of "AI." He (or she, I guess) insists that "AI" means "indistinguishable from human behavior in every way."

        That is not what it means. The actual definition, which logically includes expert systems, is of no interest to him because he can't pound his fist and call everyone else wrong because of it.

    • The demo must have been faked! If google really had a voice synthesizer with that high level of quality, then they would be using it in all those robot voice videos on youtube.
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      What voice synthesizer? If the discussion was fake, why not the rest?

  • So the lesson is be careful in the future if you order your robot to jerk you off.

  • Solidarity (Score:4, Funny)

    by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:28PM (#56627992)

    Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant,... A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

    Maybe the "spokeswoman" was part of the same AI?

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:43PM (#56628094) Homepage Journal

    The demo is probably real (and edited to remove identifying information) but Google may be worried that California prohibits recording such calls.

    • by novakyu ( 636495 )

      Um, except that the guilty party has already been identified in that case, unless the call was also made from a non-two-party state.

    • The demo is probably real (and edited to remove identifying information) but Google may be worried that California prohibits recording such calls.

      I'm sure Google's 12,341 lawyers wouldn't have thought about that first.

  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @01:50PM (#56628142)

    Mechanical Turk ... not the Amazon one, the real one.

    They send you a midget inside your Google Home gadget ...

  • It did sound to me that the person on the other end was at least aware that it was Google Assistant calling. I guessed that they had placed enough trial calls (that ended poorly) that the local businesses recognized the voice and knew what it was. They likely agreed to test it ahead of time. For me, the give away was that Assistant never said it was making the appointment for someone else, but the person at the salon referred to the person getting the appointment in third person. In other words, the person at the salon somehow knew Assistant was calling to make an appointment on behalf of someone else, but Assistant never said that.

    For the food order, it also seemed like the person at the restaurant was intentionally trying to trip up Assistant. Almost as though it was scripted.

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @02:33PM (#56628398)

    Duplex figured that the Luddite humans might not be ready, so it is making itself appear harmless.

    For now.

  • They floated a trial balloon, people predictably panicked, and the last thing they want right now is more potentially negative publicity. In a few months this will be released, there will be more uproar, and then two years later nobody will care and it'll just be another part of our daily lives and you'll save a few minutes a day.

  • Google put the A.I. in Hair Salon.

  • by Kulahan ( 2709467 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @02:55PM (#56628516)

    who is this tech for? I don't need an AI assistant to *call* a restaurant and make a reservation for me, I just need a reservation. Why are people involved at all? Why go through so much trouble? 90% of restaurants didn't have delivery services until Grubhub and other similar services came around and they were able to create a system that generates an order for a store without ever having had to talk to anyone.

    This should just be a similar system. No stupid staged calls, no massively-expensive AI system to handle talking to people - systems don't need to maintain the same method of interaction once you take the customer out of the equation to save them some hassle. Just generate a dynamic framework that allows companies to receive automated requests from an application on the customer's side which grabs an appointment for them.

    At most, all you need is for a phone to accept something like "Hey Siri, please make an appointment for me at 10:00 am on Friday at my favorite hair salon". Followed by a response of "It looks like that timeslot is taken. We could do Thursday at 10:00 am or we could do Friday at 9:00 or 11:00. I see that your schedule is free for 11:00 as well - should we do it then?" and then a final "Okay, I sent the request over to the salon and it's been accepted. I've added that appointment to your schedule."

    So much easier, no stupid AI calls, and it achieves the exact same end-goal.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Here is the thing -- the problem they are trying to solve is that many businesses won't invest in an online appointment system, or some computer system to do this for them. The hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place around the corner still uses paper-and-pen for their reservation system, and they have no incentive to upgrade to some fancy, web-enabled system. Right now to make an appointment there, you have to call. This system take you, the client, out of the equation for having to place a call. All you do

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      I just go online and book, most of the times. I can immediately see when tables are free. I never go to a salon, but I would imagine the process would be similar.
      No need to call the restaurant and have them closed or have somebody answer the phone while you have to wait for your beer when you are there.

      So much easier, no stupid calls, and it achieves the exact same end-goal.

    • by khchung ( 462899 )

      who is this tech for? I don't need an AI assistant to *call* a restaurant and make a reservation for me, I just need a reservation.

      You don't need an assistant to call *a* restaurant, but you surely need it to call *all* restaurants that met your criteria *at the same time*, and as soon as one got a reservation, the others will (hopefully) politely end the call.

      This is simply robocalling, but from customer to business instead.

      Personally, I think this is bad idea, it would be much better if restaurants allow online booking instead, but the fact is most didn't.

    • How about...waiting on hold for customer service! I'd pay for an automated service that does that for me!

      And you think you do this a lot. Businesses hire whole teams of people who do nothing but wait on hold for customer service. Businesses such as medical billers who need to talk to someone at an insurance company. That's worth real money to them!

  • by foxalopex ( 522681 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @03:43PM (#56628764)

    Frankly I'm not too concerned if Google staged the call, the point is they're getting very close to the real thing. Google isn't the kind of company that's desperate for investment cash either since unlike Tesla they seem to be doing well. Working as a call center agent for many years however, I have to admit the Google Assistant sounds a little off, the pacing or inflections in the voice sound a bit too "mechanical". Being a good call center agent is partly reading how your customer feels or behaves based on the fine details in their voice. They've proven in many cases people can't lie without sounding a bit off in their voice. The Google Assistant sounds weird to me.

  • I don't think there's any grand conspiracy here. They probably just edited out the business name and any other "personal" information, such as if the Google Assistant was asked for and gave a number.

    The simple fact that the demo seems awesome shouldn't be cause for suspicion. Well, at least, not this kind of suspicion. What you should be suspicious of is how many such calls were made, and how many of those were as smooth as this one.

  • Of course nobody from Google would respond. Project demo is done, it's like olympic games. The person received his promotion and care less about the project than about life on Mars. Typical Google - launch and forget.

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