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May 18, 2018

That Google Duplex demo at I/O may not be as impressive as we think

by John_A

What isn’t Google telling us?

Google I/O is always home to a lot of exciting announcements, but this year, the more impressive highlight was Google Duplex. Jaws collectively dropped when we saw the Google Assistant using Duplex technology to call and make appointments at real-world businesses, but it turns out those calls may not have been as natural as we thought.

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During the two demos, Google showed Assistant/Duplex making an appointment at a hair salon and calling a restaurant to schedule a reservation. Axios decided to dig a bit deeper into these calls, and while doing so, discovered that they were likely staged to some degree.

As Axios notes —

When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn’t happen when the Google assistant called these “real” businesses.

The employee that answered at the hair salon said “Hello, how can I help you?” while the person at the restaurant said, “Hi, may I help you?”

Furthermore —

Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants — including some in Google’s hometown of Mountain View — and everyone immediately gave the business name. There also does not seem to be ambient noise in either recording, such as hair dryers or plates clattering. We heard that in most of the businesses we called, but not in all.

Axios says that it asked a Google representative for the names of the businesses that were called and whether or not the calls were edited, but in both cases, the representative declined to say either way.

This is highly suggestive that the calls Google showed were staged, and while that’s not entirely surprising, does take away some of the magic. I’m still very anxious to see how this technology is implemented into Google’s various projects, but the fact that the company’s being less than transparent about the demo is a tad concerning.

What are your thoughts on this?

I’m ecstatic to live in a Google Duplex world

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