Google's Duplex AI is the next step in voice-based assistant tech. Here's what it'll be able to do when it lands in your pocket...

Just when you thought your phone couldn’t get any smarter, Google steps up and creates a new, eerily human AI voice system. Meet Google Duplex AI, the on-hand assistant that takes the hassle out of accomplishing real-world tasks – like booking a hair appointment for you – without sounding like a robot.

Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know…

First things first, what exactly is Duplex AI?

A sophisticated extension of Google’s voice assistant, Duplex is a new voice system that can carry out “real world” tasks autonomously, without human involvement, by conducting complex conversations over the phone.

Built using TensorFlow Extended (TFX) – a machine learning platform – Duplex runs on a recurrent neural network (RNN). Simply put? It’s a super-smart system built to cope with all the many intricacies and challenges associated with recognising (and responding to) human speech. The network also uses Google’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology and processes incoming sound.

In a blog post announcing the amazing new technology, Google said that Duplex can actually understand the nuances of conversation, including a person speaking with an accent. What’s more, thanks to AI advances in “understanding, interacting, timing, and speaking”, it can also carry out sophisticated conversations that sound natural.

Essentially this means that you can speak normally, like you would to another person. No need to worry about the odd um and ah, Google’s AI will still understand you.

How long has it been around?

Although AI voice assistants have been around since 2011 (“Siri, google the latest Vodafone flagship phones”), Google only joined the voice revolution a couple of years ago with Google Assistant. Its latest foray, Duplex AI, previously only available on Google’s Pixel phones, has now been given the greenlight for a wider rollout.

Duplex AI: Timeline:

  • May 2016: Google launches Google Assistant in May 2016.
  • May 2018: Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, debuts Duplex AI at Google I/O developers’ conference, live-demonstrating its ability to make phone reservations. The feature wows the crowd.
  • November 2018: the company announces that Google Duplex is rolling out to a small group of Pixel owners in a select ‘pilot’ US cities.
  • March 2019: Google expands to 43 more cities in the US and announces its plan to roll out the feature on Android and iOS devices.
  • April 2019: Google Duplex arrives on iPhones, and most Android devices in the US.

Right. So how does it work?

It might use incredibly complex technology, but Duplex’s voice-calling feature itself is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is simply ask Google Assistant to look up a business or restaurant. It’ll then ask if it can call on your behalf to make an appointment or reservation.

Next, after asking for all the relevant information (party size, reservation time, etc.), a robot will make the call for you, talk to an employee, and take that information to schedule an appointment or reservation based on what you asked for – all while sounding exactly like a real person, faux ‘errs’ and ‘umms’ included.

Oh, and you’ll never have to step-in last minute and make that awkward call to amend a booking. Google has accounted for human error on the AI’s behalf by ensuring that, no matter what, your booking will be taken care of. The system has a self-monitoring capability that allows it to recognise the tasks it cannot complete autonomously (e.g. scheduling an unusually complex appointment). The Duplex will then either react intelligently to the context of the call or signal to a human operator, who’ll complete the task for you.

Not convinced? See for yourself by watching Google Duplex AI in action below or by listening to soundbites here.

What else can it do?

At the moment Duplex AI is limited to making a restaurant reservation or booking a haircut, but it is early days. Eventually it’ll be able to call and make appointments (or even check opening hours) at a variety of local businesses.

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai said that the goal of Duplex AI is to connect users to businesses and help ease day-to-day living: “We really want it to work in cases, say, if you’re a busy parent in the morning and your kid is sick and you want to call for a doctor’s appointment.”

Which devices offer Google Duplex AI?

While Google Duplex was previously only compatible with Google Pixel smartphones, it’s now also working on iOS (by installing the Google Assistant app) and most Android devices (5.0 or higher).

Great! So is it available now?

Well, not quite. It’s currently live in the majority of the US, but we have yet to receive an official release date for its international roll out. But, given the current momentum, it’s sure to hit our shores very soon. Stay tuned!

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