Humans are stealing AI jobs at Google Duplex


Earlier this month, I shadowed several restaurants throughout NY and talked to restaurant employees across the U.S. to see how they've received Google Duplex, the AI that makes life-like calls for reservations on your behalf.

A report from The New York Times was published this week focusing on Duplex, detailing how in some cases, it's not your Google Assistant robot booking a table for you at your favorite restaurant, but instead, an actual human being. Duplex also inserts "umms" and other human idiosyncracies to seem more realistic.

Google promised that Duplex AI would revolutionize how we make reservations for restaurants, but we're still not quite there yet. Google told the publication that it uses a variety of signals to decide whether a call should be made by a human or AI.

Update, May 23, 2019 (02:34 PM ET): Google clarified for us how Duplex works when it comes to handing off tasks to a human rather than a bot. While there is no doubt that Google Duplex is highly impressive, Google has now revealed that sometimes Duplex calls actually require human intervention. With a simple voice command, you could instruct the Assistant to make restaurant reservations for you by placing a phone call using an AI bot.

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The Times speculates that having human helpers making calls on AI's behalf may help train the system, teaching it how to deal with unexpected follow-up questions and so on.

The service has now rolled out to users of Google Assistant in most USA states, but you may not be getting the full AI experience. But soon after that keynote, it became clear that Duplex is somewhat creepy, as Google failed to identify the robocall to the other person. Sometimes, Duplex calls aren't picked up by a restaurant because they can look like spam on a restaurant's Caller ID. For example, the New York Times notes a situation in which Duplex didn't recognize that reservations were available.

Google confirmed that the company is actually using real humans to help with bookings when the AI is unable to or is confused about something.

According to Google, this call was placed by a human because there wasn't enough information available on the Thai restaurant to know if it even accepted reservations.