Google AI to make phone calls for users

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Google AI to make phone calls for users

Google has unveiled artificial intelligence software that books appointments over the phone on behalf of users by conducting voice-based conversations on their behalf.

Chief executive Sundar Pichair said that Google Duplex would launch as an “experiment” over the coming weeks.

The facility was unveiled at the firm’s annual IO developers conference.

Experts have said that if it works it could give the firm a major advantage over rival virtual assistants.

Pre-recorded demonstrations played back to the audience featured the software first booking a haircut and then making a restaurant reservation by speaking to two human employees.

One of the cases involved the Google Assistant virtual helper coping with a worker who seemed confused by straight-forward questions.

At no point did it identify itself as a machine.

“Done correctly, it will save time for people and generate a lot of value for businesses,” suggested Mr Pichai.

He added that in the first instant, the software would be used to call businesses to confirm their holiday opening times, and then automatically update the information on the pages Google provides for them.

“Hard to believe this was real,” commented Ben Bajaran, an analyst at the consultancy Creative Strategies after the demo.

“You can not underestimate the value consumers will see in these voice assistants.

“Apple cannot fall too far behind because this is the kind of thing I can see people switching platforms for.”

Other experts, however, remarked that people would have to be convinced to trust the software if it is to be widely adopted.

‘Careful and deliberate’

The Google IO event comes a week after Facebook held its own developers conference under the shadow of a data privacy scandal, which has prompted wider questions about the amount of personal information being gathered and processed by the tech industry.

Mr Pichai did not refer to the controversy directly, but briefly addressed consumers’ concerns.

“There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of these advances and the role they will play in our lives,” he said towards the beginning of his presentation.

“So we know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately, and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right.”

Other announcements included:

  • YouTube can be set to suggest screen breaks to young users spending a lot of time on the app
  • Gmail will be able to automatically complete sentences by adding several words at a time based on information collected about the user
  • Google Photos will propose Suggested Actions, including sending copies of an image to people it recognises in a shot, colourising black-and-white pictures, and converting photos of documents into PDFs
  • the Google Assistant virtual helper gains new six voices, can be set to encourage children to use the word “please”, and can handle follow-up requests without the need to say “hey Google” each time

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