Google’s AI-powered Duplex calling service arrives on Pixel phones in the US

Google’s AI-powered Duplex calling service arrives on Pixel phones in the US
Credit: Google

Remember when Google demoed Duplex, a service that would have an AI-powered bot call restaurants and salons to book tables and appointments for you over the phone? VentureBeat reports that it’s real, and as promised last month, it’s rolling out to Pixel phones in ‘select cities’ in the US.

The outlet noted that Duplex currently only manages restaurant reservations, and that it managed to successfully book tables every time it could reach those establishments. The service only works in English, and is still in testing – just with a larger group of users than before.

To have Duplex book a table for you, you’ll need to invoke Google Assistant and ask it to do that with a command like, “Hey Google, make a restaurant reservation in Manhattan.” Next, you’ll have to answer a few questions to narrow down your selection by cuisine, or simply by the name of the restaurant. Assistant will confirm a few more details before having Duplex make the call. After your booking is complete, you can view details about it or cancel from the My Reservations screen.

Here’s what the call sounds like at the restaurant’s end:

So, should you be excited for Duplex? At this point, I’m less concerned about the ethical and legal issues around using a service like this: since it first demonstrated Duplex at its developer conference in May, Google’s added some disclaimers to let restaurant staff know that the call is coming from the company. It seems like it’d be willing to learn from user feedback about whether it needs to also state that it’s a bot, so there’s no deception involved.

I’m not holding my breath to use Duplex at this point, because as VentureBeat’s video shows, it takes a fair amount of time to get the service to gather info from you before it can place a call; you might find it quicker to just phone the restaurant yourself.

And as I noted in May, I don’t see the need for phone calls simply to make bookings in this day and age. Many small businesses across India accept bookings online, and I’ve rarely had to resort to picking up the phone and using my own voice to schedule appointments, reserve tables, and buy tickets. If the US isn’t already up on that, as Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted, it’ll inevitably move in that direction in the near future. What I’m more interested in is using AI to screen calls and tackle telemarketers.

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