At the 2018 Google annual IO festival, their CEO showed off an incredible new feature of Google Assistant. It was revealed that in the close future that Google Assistant will be able to make phone calls on your behalf without any effort on the users part. The company’s CEO Sundar Pichai played back a real conversation demonstration of this jaw-dropping capability in action, consisting of a phone call recording whereby the user wishes to place a hair appointment. Google Assistant gets told what to do by the user and it seamlessly places the phone call in the background.
The voice in the recording sounds incredibly natural and the staff member of the hair salon has no idea they were talking to a digital AI helper. Pichai insured the audience that this was a real call scenario that happened using Google Assistant and not some specially designed or staged demo for the festival. Assistant can understand the nuances of conversation. Google has been working on this technology for many years. It’s called Google Duplex. This innovation comes from their investments over the years in natural language understanding, text to speech and deep learning. Also when the call is done, Google Assistant can give you a confirmation notification that your appointment has been taken care of so you don’t have to worry whether your appointment was taken care of or not.
The Duplex system is able to carry out very detailed conversations. This state of the art technology completes the majority of its tasks fully autonomously without human involvement. Duplex has a self-monitoring capability which allows it to recognise the tasks it cannot complete autonomously like booking a complex appointment or a difficult task. When this happens Google Assistant signals to a human operator who can fully complete the task.
To train the Duplex system they use real-time supervised training. This is comparable to the training practices in many industries where an instructor supervises a person as they are doing their work, providing guidance if required, and making sure that the task is performed properly and to a high standard. With this advancement feature, experienced operators act as the instructors. By monitoring the system as it makes phone calls they can affect the behaviour of the system in real time if they need to. This continues until the task is performed at the desired quality level by the Duplex technology. It is only at this point that the supervision stops and the Duplex system can call autonomously.
The Google CEO said Duplex feels like next level technology but he said it is still very much under development. They plan on conducting further early testing of the Duplex system inside assistant this summer to help users make restaurant reservations, book appointments and get holiday hours over the phone. Google notes that Duplex successfully completes the majority of the conversations and tasks on its own without any intervention from an operator on Google’s end. However, there are cases where it gets overwhelmed and hands off to an operator.
Pichai said that the feature can react intelligently even when a conversation veers off course or doesn’t go as expected. “We’re still developing this technology, and we want to work hard to get this right” he said.
This is an exciting new feature which could potentially change the way people do interact in certain situations. For more information on the Duplex technology and more details of it in action see the Google AI blog.