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Google Duplex calls for reservations are handled by humans one-fourth of the time

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai had everyone impressed at Google I/O 2018 when he demonstrated Duplex, a feature which lets the Assistant place calls on your behalf using artificial intelligence for things such as restaurant reservation, salon bookings, etc. A year since that demo, it has emerged that one out of four Duplex calls is still handled by humans.

Google has been upfront about the fact that during the initial rollout of Duplex, there will be a human takeover of calls when the Assistant is asked questions where it fumbles. But in a series of tests done by The New York Times, it noticed that the calls were placed on the behalf of Assistant by humans in call centres, one-fourth of the time. Around 15 percent of the time, even though the call is stared by AI-powered Assistant, it is handed over to a human to complete the booking.

The report, however, mentioned that the times that Assistant did get it right, it was quite impressive. On one instance, a call was placed to a Korean restaurant by the Assistant. The manager was asked to purposely act confused while taking the reservation to see how AI-powered Duplex handled these situations. Turned out the Assistant was patient and responded to repeated queries as well.

The Google Assistant can help you get things done over the phone. Image: Google’s YouTube channel

After all the details were discussed with the Assistant, the manager tried to throw a googly: “Are there any kids?” To this, the Assistant answered, “I’m actually booking on behalf of a client, so I’m not too sure.” This was impressive as that is exactly how one would expect a human caller, who wouldn’t know that answer, to respond. This is addition to the ‘aahs’ and ‘umms’ that a Duplex call anyway involves to give it a more human touch.

According to Google, there are several instances when it makes the decision of whether to handover the call to a human or not. For instance, in cases where the Assistant isn’t sure if the restaurant takes reservations.

Another reason Google executive Nick Fox, overseeing Assistant, gave was that the company wasn’t aggressively pushing to eliminate human involvement from Duplex. It is currently active only in some states in the US at the moment. According to Fox, over-reliance on AI calling via Duplex so early on would make the experience worse for business owners. Google Duplex obviously gives the disclaimer as the call begins that it is being handled by a robot and that the call is being recorded on behalf of the client. Google wants to gradually improve the automated system and reduce the reliance on humans.

At this year’s edition of Google I/O, we saw the announcement of Duplex for Web, a feature that uses AI and the information Google has on you to fill out forms online.

In its web avatar, Duplex will do things like autofill forms with a mere tap or voice command. Say you’re booking a rental car, you just ask Assistant to ‘Book a car with National for my next trip’ and Assistant will do all the grunt work for you. Everything from navigating to the web page, filling in your personal data, email ID, dates and times and more will be handled directly by Google.

We’re extending Duplex to the web, previewing how the Google Assistant can help you complete a task online, like renting a car or buying movie tickets. More later this year. #io19 pic.twitter.com/lSWH5Rz72X

— Google (@Google) May 7, 2019

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