Machine reservations: Google’s Duplex expanding to more Android, iPhone users
The technology appears to be ready for prime time as Google readies machine-based booking for categories beyond restaurants.
Google is rolling out Duplex to more users and locations. Originally it was limited to Pixel 3 (and XL) users in New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and San Francisco. In March, that expanded to all Pixel owners in 43 states. Soon more Android and even iPhone owners will be able to use the Google Assistant to book local restaurant reservations in most states in the U.S.
Ready for restaurants. This morning I was able to use my Pixel 2XL to initiate a restaurant booking, which I didn’t complete because I was just testing the system. The Assistant asked me a number of questions, captured in the screenshot below. When the reservation is completed users receive a notification on their phones, an email and a calendar invitation. Interestingly, it’s not yet available for Google Home devices.
Duplex, which is a feature of the Google Assistant, was originally announced at the company’s 2018 developer conference. The demo and recordings are very impressive and the machine-generated conversation sounds very life-like (Turing-test beating).
Going beyond restaurant booking. Late last year, Google started asking Google My Business profile owners whether they were willing to accept “Google Assistant calls.” (It’s an opt-out.) Google said this extends to two scenarios: 1) letting customers use Google Assistant to book reservations and appointments and 2) allowing Google Assistant to confirm factual information about the business.
Accordingly, Google intends to expand Duplex booking beyond restaurants to other categories eventually. The company will also likely use use the system, perhaps even in the near term, to correct and confirm local business listings data — or ask for enhanced data. Many local data companies use humans (e.g., offshore call centers) to confirm information. Google may one day be able to do this at scale entirely using automation.
Why you should care. There are numerous implications if Duplex proves to be a success. They extend to marketing and sales most obviously, but also to other areas, including analytics. It’s easy to imagine a near-term scenario when more telemarketing and lead-capture is done by very life-like sounding robots that can interact and respond to common questions. This might be a big deal for telephone sales. There are also ethical and legal issues to consider.
Putting the concerns aside for the moment, consumers and local business owners could benefit from the system if it works. But to fully benefit, local businesses will need their own bots to receive and respond to Duplex and similar systems that appear in the coming years.
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