In Brief

Google Duplex: AI that can make phone bookings for you debuts at I/O conference

System enables Google Assistant to conduct lifelike conversations with humans

Google has developed a new artificial intelligence (AI) system that brings humanity one step closer to having lifelike conversations with robots.

In a demo last night at the company’s annual I/O tech conference, in Mountain View, California, the new Duplex AI system enables Google’s virtual Assistant to successfully call up a hair salon and book an appointment, in a human-like interaction.  

A video posted on Twitter by Android Central’s Daniel Bader features the AI asking the hairdresser to schedule an appointment between 10am and 12pm. 

When asked which styling service is required, the AI responds: “Just a woman’s haircut.” 

The demonstration shows that the AI can “flawlessly” replicate human speech, convincing the “unsuspecting” hairdresser that she was talking to a real person, says Engadget

To make the system’s speech sound more human, Google has programmed the AI to add in lifelike conversation fillers such as “ums” and “ahhs”, the tech news site adds.

The development “marks the next big step in natural-sounding” and “fully autonomous” interactions between humans and AI, says Wired

However, the system could be misused, argues the magazine, noting that it is “easy to imagine someone trying to program the assistant to spam-call a business, for example”.

In a bid to address such concerns, Google says it will “be transparent about where and when Duplex is being used”, although the company did not specify how this information would be shared, The Verge reports. 

While the Duplex AI “sounds as though the future of voice assistants has arrived”, says CNet, the technology is still in an early phase of development.

Google plans to trial the system with a small group of users this summer, the site adds.

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