Google Will Expand Access to Conversational AI

An artificial intelligence-powered Google Assistant feature that can call businesses and book reservations with a passable human voice is coming to more Americans’ phones.

The search giant announced Wednesday that Google Duplex will be widely available to Pixel in 43 states as well as and iOS phones sometime in the coming weeks. Accessible only to a limited number of Pixel owners until now, the service’s debut last year sparked debate over whether human-sounding AI should ethically disclose its identity as such to the restaurant hosts or salon clerks it calls. (Google later added a form of disclosure, a bit of dialogue identifying itself as an automated system upfront.)

The technology is activated when users instruct their Google Assistant app to book reservations at a restaurant or hair salon at a certain time or within a time period. Once the call is made, Google will send a notification, email update and calendar invite if the reservation is successful.

“Hi, um, I’d like to reserve a table for Wednesday the seventh,” the assistant says in one example snippet, authentically mimicking the pauses and inflection of a real conversation. “Um, it’s for four people.”

While online booking systems are becoming increasingly common for small appointment- and reservation-based businesses, Google found that 60 percent still don’t have an automated option, causing problems for its voice assistant, and developed Duplex to address the problem.

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