The tease for the Google Assistant's next major upgrade is stunning.
Called Google Duplex, the technology enables the Google Assistant to schedule appointments and make bookings over a phone call on your behalf. It's an unparalleled feature.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai showed off a demo of the assistant in action at this year's Google I/O conference. It's worth seeing in action.
You ask Google Assistant to make a booking, it does all the work in the background.
Google has made it clear that Duplex is limited in the range of functions it offers, but if it works day-to-day as depicted in the demo, it promises to be fit for purpose.
While the Google Duplex development may be impressive, the demo has raised questions. From the simple, how does it work every day, to the significant ethical and legal implications of the technology.
In our day-to-day lives, we may not want to deal with more AI bots. If you've ever had to regularly deal with phone-bots, you'll know their frustrating shortcomings. Duplex also changes the typical phone-bot dynamic. Typically, you are placing a call to a bot. With Duplex, you're receiving the call.
The demo also showed that Google Duplex can respond to somewhat complex scenarios. However, it's not clear how the AI will respond when it cannot generate an answer.
Despite these issues, the technology does undoubtedly present an opportunity for Google. It is a point of differentiation compared to Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri.
Being able to tell the Google Assistant to manage your work and personal calendar using natural language is a real innovation. It also sparks future possibilities. Imagine if there is an AI at both ends of a meeting request. You could have a meeting arranged in seconds without interrupting any of the human parties.
Pushing the boundaries of tech & ethics
Before our imaginations go too wild following the Google Duplex demo, there were significant questions left to be answered off-stage. Google Duplex AI can only answer very limited range of questions.
There are also ethical questions about using an AI in this way. Should an AI be required to disclose that it is calling on a person's behalf? In Australia, we have clear laws about obtaining consent when recording and sharing phone calls. There may be a legal issue where a bot on your behalf records a phone call and shares it with Google.
Google only offered a vague answer to disclosing the AI's presence, "we want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months."
It's possible these questions won't be answered for Australians anytime soon. Google is already hinting that the initial launch of Duplex will be limited to U.S. states with less onerous eavesdropping laws.
While these questions are worth consideration, Google Duplex and technologies like it, may form part of our lives before they are answered.
You can learn more about Google Duplex at the Google AI Blog here.