Google Assistant Making Phone Calls at I/O: How Is This Even Possible?!

If there’s one thing that the opening keynote of Google I/O on Tuesday proved, it’s that Google fully understands how much millennials hate making phone calls. The solution: Get artificial intelligence to book appointments for them.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled a Google Assistant feature that will transform the device from something that simply relays the weather to an actual robotic secretary.

Google Duplex will be able to make calls on your behalf to schedule a salon appointment, book a table at a restaurant, and check if a store is open during the holidays.

This next-generation A.I. technology is still under development and Pichai did not give a timeframe as to when it would be released, but Google intends to test extensively Duplex over this summer. This could be the first step towards a legitimate virtual assistant that many smart home devices have been trying to achieve, but have only partially pulled off.

Incoming sound is processed through an automatic speech recognition (ASR) system. This produces text that is analyzed with context data and other inputs to produce a response text that is read aloud through the text-to-speech (TTS) system.

Google A.I.

“The assistant can actually understand the nuances of conversation,” says Pichai. “We’ve been working on this technology for many years, it brings together all of our investments over the years in natural language understanding, deep learning, and text to speech.”

The CEO played back two phone call recordings of Duplex booking a hair appointment and trying to reserve a spot in a restaurant. The voices in each recording sounded indistinguishably natural and the person on the other end was seemingly unaware that they were talking to a machine.

Coming close to perfectly replicating human voices will certainly raise some concerns about impersonating people over the phone. In a Google A.I. blog post the developers explained how they wanted to make this service as transparent as possible and that they would be focusing on refining Duplex’s performances only in specific scenarios.

Once Google deems this product ready for the public, we’ll have the foundations of a real-life A.I. secretary. Great news for anyone who is phone shy…which is pretty much everyone.

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