Google Duplex: How the Virtual Assistant May Shatter Language Barriers

So you don't sound clueless over the phone.

The internet has bridged the physical gaps between humans. Oceans and mountains no longer separate us as long as we have our smartphone in hand. But even the best online translators remain limited in their ability to surmount the language barrier.

That’s where virtual assistants like Google Duplex could come into play, Google’s Vice President of Product and Design, Nick Fox, tells Inverse Duplex wowed developers at the I/O conference in May by booking appointments over the phone with a natural-sounding voice. People who simply hate talking on the phone are going to love it, but the more compelling use-case is probably the virtual assistant’s ability to help people accomplish commercial tasks in places when they don’t understand the language.

“There’s the opportunity to [give people] the ability to call a business in a country where [they] don’t speak the language,” says Fox. “I’d be able to speak to the assistant in a language that I speak and then it could speak to the business in a language that makes sense to them. That’s a really interesting way this system can be used to break language barriers.”

During a New York press event on Monday, Google revealed that it would begin publicly testing its much-anticipated A.I. assistant. These limited trials will begin in July and will involve calling select businesses to ask about their hours.

Over the next few months, Google will slowly up the ante by calling to book restaurant reservations and hair appointments. The company wants to ensure the system sounds as natural as possible while being able to understand dialects and accents of all kinds.

“One thing that we’ve worked a lot on the speech side is understanding different dialects,” says Fox. “That’s one example that I’m excited about, really trying to make sure whatever kind of restaurant we’re calling as long as the language is spoken that we can understand what’s being said. We’re not perfect at that but we spent a lot of attention on that within the Google Assistant more generally.”

So perhaps as soon as next year, you could stop sounding clueless when you’re trying to book a reservation at that fancy French restaurant.

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