Last time you had to call for a haircut appointment or book a small restaurant for a group, was it annoying? Google's betting on yes, and it's been listening to lots of your calls to come up with that conclusion. Just announced at Google I/O, you're getting a new personal assistant this summer--Google Duplex.

Through Google Assistant--known to you as "Hey, Google" --you'll be able to get restaurant reservations, schedule salons, and find out holiday hours by having Google Duplex make phone calls for you.

Google Duplex sounds like someone you like

The appointment will show up in your calendar as if you spent your morning working the phone. If you haven't heard this Google AI speaking yet, you owe it to yourself to listen to the demo in the video below. It's mind-blowingly good at carrying on a real, goal-oriented booking conversation. If this voice called your business, you'd never think it was a machine . . . and in fact, while Google did not demo it or discuss this, this quality level implies in the future AI tech like this could well be capable of mimicking your own voice and conversational style perfectly. 


According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, it's not just about saving you time by making tedious calls for you--it's also about helping smaller businesses book more easily. He said, "60% of small businesses don't have an online booking system . . . We think AI can help with this problem." Every day, 

Pichai shared Google gets a lot of calls on holiday opening hours for businesses. What if this information were more widely reliable on Google? Using Duplex, Google will be updating its own information, too. 

Google Duplex is as convincing as a real person

The AI uses natural language like err, umm, and mm-hmm to respond.  "The amazing thing is our system can actually understand the nuances of conversation," Pichai said.  Pichai showed the I/O audience how Duplex could make a call to a small restaurant for a reservation. Duplex uses "Oh, I gotcha" and "oooh," mastering the language gracefully, just like real people interact. "We work hard to get this right for both businesses and users. Done correctly, it'll save time for people and businesses," he shared.

Google Duplex starts small--dreams big

Right now, Google Duplex is training in narrow ranges of applications--like booking hair appointments, restaurants, and finding out opening hours. When it fails to understand, the company says it triggers a person to jump in. Google Duplex is not able to carry on a goal-free conversation at the moment, but just think about where it can go. How the system interprets and acts on goals will continue to scale, perhaps like Google's Alpha Go Zero was a vast improvement over learning curve of the first Alpha Go.

Yesterday, Google Assistant could tell you the weather and traffic. Today, it's booking hair appointments. Tomorrow, it might be doing psychotherapy or following up on your taxes. Very different goals--but still specific and measurable outcomes. In other words, this AI is human-equivalent at doing the specific task it trained on (booking hair appointments at the moment). The future looks fascinating.