Google Introduces Lifelike AI Experience with Google Duplex
by Mark Thomas
Imagine having a smart chat with a computer. Imagine that the computer doesn’t need to recur things back to you or ask you to corroborate what you just said or asked. That it responds in a voice that doesn’t sound like a robot. Well, let me introduce you to Google Duplex, which may be the world’s most realistic computer.
Google I/O 2018, Google’s annual developer conference, is just unfolding, and there are numerous articles distributing features of the conference. One that caught my attention was a report about how Google Duplex and the Google Assistant can handle calls. What’s captivating is that this isn’t a reactive chatbot or voice interactive system. In other words, it isn’t the technology to be used by the support center when a customer calls with questions, though it will eventually enlarge to that area. This is an active assistant for customers that will actually make a phone call, for example, to appeal a dinner booking or an appointment for a haircut. The “associate” cooperates with the person on the other end as if it were human. It even comprises confirmation phrases (also known as sub-vocals) such as “mmm-hmm” and “er,” and can match persons’ voice patterns and pace of conversation.
This was proven when Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, proved the technology with a recording of two telephone conversations. You can listen to the conversations on youtube, and I highly commend you do. You will perhaps find the chats captivating if nothing else. Maybe even a little frightening or creepy!
On the first call, which was to set up a haircut job at a salon, the salon’s receptionist asked the caller to hold on. The Assistant replied with “Mmm-hmm,” which caused an outbreak of applause and laughter from the 7,000 in presence. There is no doubt that the receptionist had no idea she was talking to an AI-powered machinery.
Later in the same article is a recording of a second conversation, in which the machine is calling to make a dinner reservation. Even with the preposterous way the restaurant worker handled the call, the Google Assistant was not puzzled.
Here’s my take. We’re entering an age when chat with computers are reaching new peaks of quality and dependability. There’s still lots of room for development, but as we see in the presentation, the technology is getting better, and at a rate of speed that would make Mario Andretti and Danica Patrick proud. Even Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968), which contains H.A.L. 9000, which for me, sets the bar for voice communicating technology, won’t hold a candle to what we can expect in the very near future. In the next year or two, companies like Google, IBM, Salesforce and other nonconformists in the AI field will continue giving AI a voice and bringing it to life.
Yet, I still believe that AI’s capability to interrelate with humans on a deeper level has a long way to go. Even with a realistic discussion and the ability for the computer to recognize the sentiment and mood of the other person, the technology is still a long way from being used for more than simple and basic communication. The lifelike chatbot experience is here, and the AI-powered voice experience is not that far behind.
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