Google CEO Sundar Pichai drew cheers from crowds on Tuesday 8 May 2018 as he demonstrated the new technology, called Google Duplex, during the company’s annual conference for software developers.The announcement was made at Google I/O, an annual event held since 2008 to share new tools and strategies with creators of products that work with Google software and hardware. It shows how Google is responding to rising competition from big tech companies over virtual assistants, shopping and devices.Google Duplex was announced as a new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out “real world” tasks over the phone. The technology is directed towards completing specific tasks, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. For such tasks, the system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine.

It’s been a year since CEO Sundar Pichai declared the intention to shift focus from “mobile first” to “AI first.” Since then, Google has invested heavily in machine learning research, developing frameworks to create more sophisticated applications that can basically think for themselves.

There’s no denying Google’s pivot to AI has brought some truly useful new features. Photos, for one, can identify the exact outline of a subject like your adorable toddler, and turn everything else in the picture grayscale to make a stylized picture. Or it can take an old black-and-white photo, identify the trees or the grass and colorize them appropriately. Meanwhile, the revamped News app will use AI to pick a variety of sources to deliver full, rounded perspectives on news stories. Smart Replies, which debuted in Inbox as early as 2015, and its logical extension Smart Compose, can save you the trouble of coming up with answers to your friends’ inane emails. In every one of Google’s vast array of products, AI has been inserted to improve performance and utility. They’re getting smarter and faster at understanding not just context but also our preferences and behaviors, meaning we can think less, and let the computers do that for us.

Benefits for Businesses and Users

Businesses that rely on appointment bookings supported by Duplex, and are not yet powered by online systems, can benefit from Duplex by allowing customers to book through the Google Assistant without having to change any day-to-day practices or train employees. With Duplex, Assistant will be able to book restaurants and services for you via a phone call. Simply ask it to make you a haircut appointment on Tuesday between 10am and noon, for example, and Assistant will call your designated salon and sort out your reservation. It’s like having a real-life personal assistant, and if Google pulls this off, the convenience it offers would be immense.

Using Duplex could also reduce no-shows to appointments by reminding customers about their upcoming appointments in a way that allows easy cancellation or rescheduling.

In another example, customers often call businesses to inquire about information that is not available online such as hours of operation during a holiday. Duplex can call the business to inquire about open hours and make the information available online with Google, reducing the number of such calls businesses receive, while at the same time, making the information more accessible to everyone. Businesses can operate as they always have, there’s no learning curve or changes to make to benefit from this technology.

Another benefit for users is that Duplex enables delegated communication with service providers in an asynchronous way, e.g., requesting reservations during off-hours, or with limited connectivity. It can also help address accessibility and language barriers, e.g., allowing hearing-impaired users, or users who don’t speak the local language, to carry out tasks over the phone.

About the worries from others, Google has moved to reassure the world that its new, remarkably-human sounding voice assistant won’t try to pass itself off as a person.