Google during its keynote speech at the annual I/O developer conference last week stunned onlookers with a demonstration of its Google Assistant calling local businesses and conducting natural conversation to carry out “real world” tasks on behalf of users. It’s called Google Duplex and if you missed the demos, they’re certainly worth checking out.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai insisted that the pre-recorded calls are real calls. “What you’re going to hear is the Google Assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment for you,” Pichai said of one of the calls.
But was Google being entirely truthful about the presentation? Axios has some questions.
In a recent piece, the publication highlights how receptionists at most businesses are trained to identify the business itself when answering the phone. To prove its point, Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants (the same types of businesses Google called in its demo) and every time, the receptionist immediately gave the name of the business.
In both of Google’s calls, that didn’t happen.
Axios also notes the lack of ambient noise in the background on both of Google’s calls. In a hair salon and a restaurant, you may expect to hear things like hair dryers or silverware clanking but neither was present in Google’s demo.
Also curious is the fact that neither the hair salon nor the restaurant asked Google’s AI for a contact number.
Axios asked Google for the name of the salon and restaurant used in the calls to verify that both are indeed real businesses. Even when guaranteeing (in writing) that the names of both establishments wouldn’t be publicly identified, a longtime Google spokesperson declined to provide either name.
Axios then asked if either call was edited, even if briefly to censor the business name. The spokesperson declined to comment but said they would get back to them. She didn’t, so a follow-up email was sent that copied another member of Google’s communications team. A reply was sent saying they’d get right back to Axios but that didn’t happen, either.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think Google presented the calls as they actually happened without any editing or pre-planning? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Sundar image courtesy David Paul Morris, Getty Images