Google’s Duplex Now Uses Humans to Book Reservations

Google’s artificial intelligence-based Duplex automated calling system was used in calling the restaurant and booking a table / Thorsten Rust via Shutterstock

 

“Google Assistant” showed up on the caller ID when on a recent afternoon the Lao Thai Kitchen in Albany, CA received a phone call. The caller, according to the waiter who answered the phone, was a man with an Irish accent who was booking a dinner reservation for two for the weekend.

Duplex is Now Available on iPhones and Android Devices

The New York Times said it was not an ordinary booking because Google’s artificial intelligence-based Duplex automated calling system was used in calling the restaurant and booking a table. Duplex, which saw a limited release in 2018, is now being made available to a bigger number of Android devices and iPhones.

On the other hand, the voice of the Irish man sounded very much human and when the caller was asked if he was a robot, the caller laughed and replied that he was not.

Caller Sounded Like a Human Person

The waiter, when interviewed by The New York Times, said: “It sounded very real. It was perfectly human.” Google would later confirm that the caller was indeed a real person who was working in a call center. The technology giant said that calls made by humans account for 25% of the calls made through Duplex and that humans intervene at some point in 15% of the calls coursed through the automated system.

The New York Times then decided to test Duplex for several days, making reservations in a dozen restaurants, and it found out that Duplex rely heavily on humans to make the calls. Of the four successful bookings done through Duplex, three were made by human callers. When the calls were made by a bot, the bot sounded like a human and was even able to answer nuanced questions. That only goes to show that even if Duplex was unveiled as an artificial intelligence-based system, it is still mostly operated by humans.

Pixel Smartphones

In testing Duplex, The New York Times used a pair of Pixel smartphones that come preloaded with the Google Assistant. At the bottom of the screen, there is a button that can be pressed to summon the Google Assistant and the user can now say, “Book me a dinner reservation.”

The digital assistant will then show a list of nearby restaurants. Several restaurants rejected the newspaper’s request to book a table for two because they only accept reservations for 10 people or more. Finally, four reservations were made: two at the Nomad Tibetan restaurant, one at Lao Thai Kitchen, and the last one at Bowl’d Korean Rice Bar. The newspaper witnessed or reviewed each of the phone calls and the restaurants were notified that Duplex was being tested before they answer each phone.

The only call that was made purely using the Duplex bot was for the reservation at the Bowl’d Korean Rice Bar. The bot introduced itself as Google’s automated booking service and asked for a reservation on May 21, 2019. The call showed the ability of the bot to mimic a real person by inserting pauses and ums, making the conversation more lifelike and not scripted.

Duplex Knows How to Improvise

When the restaurant manager asked the date of the reservation and the number of persons attending the party, the bot was patient enough to answer the question again. When the bot was asked if there would be kids, it was able to improvise an answer and told the manager: “I’m actually booking on behalf of a client, so I’m not too sure,” When The New York Times interviewed the manager, Jin Park, after the call, he said that “It’s like a real person talking.” Park was very much impressed when the bot was able to answer his question if kids would be attending the party.

The New York Times said that the other reservations were less impressive because they were done by humans. Duplex, according to Google, relies on humans because it was taking a conservative approach so as not frighten businesses. Furthermore, a human caller will be involved in a number of transactions, such as when it is not known if a restaurant takes reservations or if a spammer is using Google Assistant.

Valerie Nygard, the product manager for Duplex, said that for the reservation at the Tibetan company, the call was made by a human because there were no indications that the restaurant was booking reservations.

Google said that it was not determined to remove humans from Duplex because it could make interacting with businesses worse. The online giant said that it will improve Duplex over time and gradually eliminate the need for human intervention.

Duplex relies on humans because it was taking a conservative approach so as not frighten businesses / GaudiLab via Shutterstock

 

At a time when technology companies are touting the era of artificial intelligence, the technology is not as intelligent as it may seem. For instance, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg hailed artificial intelligence for its ability to remove negative content from its platform but the social network still employs humans to do the task. Also, despite the scores of robots in Amazon’s distribution centers, humans are the ones that still sort the merchandise that passes through its warehouses.

By the same token, Google’s Duplex may be adept at making restaurant reservations over the phone but still relies on humans, just like Facebook and Amazon.