Google Duplex IVR Demonstrates AI Advances, Raises Security Worries

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Google Duplex IVR Demonstrates AI Advances, Raises Security Worries

At its annual I/O developers conference on May 8, Google unveiled a new artificial intelligence system called Duplex that the company argues will transform the world’s interaction with interactive voice response and AI-driven bots. Google demonstrated how business users could work with Duplex over phones or smart speakers could do everything from making restaurant reservations to setting up appointments and business meetings all while sounding as if these tasks were being performance by living persons. Google argued in a subsequent blog post on Duplex that the service would be ideal for business users who want to use it for scheduling or providing information to the public. But there are also ethical concerns about Duplex. So before companies consider deploying the service—or accepting calls from it—some questions need to be answered. Read on to learn more.

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What Is Duplex and How Does It Work?

Google Duplex is a new artificial intelligence technology that provides an interactive voice interface that sounds eerily life-like. In a blog post about Duplex, Google said that the service offers “natural conversations” that can handle “real world tasks over the phone.” For now, Duplex is focused on completing very specific tasks, such as scheduling. It uses Google Assistant along with a neural network and an AI platform called TensorFlow Extended that all work together to deliver natural language responses.

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Duplex Is Integrated With Google Assistant

Google Assistant plays an important role in how Google Duplex works. Users who want to communicate with businesses and services on the Internet simply ask Google Assistant, which runs on their phones or smart home devices, to place a call to a business location or a cloud service to set up an appointment, make a reservation, or perform another function. Google Assistant then handles the call in the background without user input.

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Travel, Restaurant, Meeting Reservations Are Top Uses

In a blog post, Google pitched Google Duplex as a way for companies to book appointments and reservations. Google envisions that business would work with Duplex to answer customer calls, respond with reservation options and book reservations. Google says it would reduce human interaction with less-critical tasks and require no training.

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Could It Reduce No-Shows?

For doctor’s offices, restaurants, and other locations that need reliable scheduling, Google said that Duplex could be an effective way to reduce no-show by calling customers to remind them about reservations without human interaction. If customers need to cancel or reschedule appointments, Google Duplex could handle the task on the fly without requiring human to step in.

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Duplex Can Field Customer’s Repetitive Questions

Google officials also suggested Duplex will also reduce the time employees spend answering customers frequently asked questions that they can’t find or don’t bother to look up online. With Duplex, companies can input information about holiday hours, new sales and special deals and other information. Google added that Duplex is capable of handling a wide-range of languages and works with hearing-impaired callers.

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Duplex Is a Work in Progress

In truth, Google Duplex is not fully development and there are still far more questions than answers about how well it will work. But what is clear is that there will be a close tie-in with Google apps and cloud services. After all, Duplex relies on Google Assistant and will only be able to interact with scheduling and reservation systems that can communicate with Google’s platforms. It shouldn’t be any surprise if Google uses Duplex as a way to sell more companies on using its many other cloud apps, including the G Suite apps Gmail, Calendar and Docs, among others.

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Duplex Raises Ethical Questions

Google’s announcement raised questions within the media about whether Duplex’s AI-driven voice response is so human-like that people should be informed that they are speaking to a computer, not a person. Duplex didn’t do that in the demonstrations at Google I/O. The same holds true for business employees that don’t realize that are speaking to customers’ Duplex units, rather to customers themselves. Businesses will have to decide if they are comfortable with Duplex’s advanced IVR capabilities.

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There Are Significant Privacy Implications

Many privacy advocates argue Google hasn’t thoroughly thought-out the privacy implications with Duplex. If a person is communicating with Duplex and sharing information about themselves, their appointments and other data, can they rely on the privacy and security of that data? What kind of legal or regulatory issues could businesses face if they set up appointments or share information about a customer without properly verifying the identity of callers? Potential pitfalls are numerous.

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Google’s Attempt at an Answer

Some Google employees have tried to allay some of the fears about Duplex. They note that the company is working on testing the technology and it’s not fully baked yet. They also note that Duplex isn’t programmed to sounds like a human with the deliberate goal of deceiving people. Although Google has said that Duplex will be limited to only certain features for now, the company has yet to provide detailed answers to the questions about privacy and security questions.

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Duplex Needs Time to Mature

For now it looks like Duplex is too immature a technology to be widely deployed by enterprises. Some security and privacy experts say Google Duplex is a half-baked artificial intelligence platform that needs to undergo far more testing before it can become an effective product for enterprises. By deploying Google Duplex, companies are possibly exposing themselves to privacy concerns and angering users who worry they’re being duped by machines. For now it’s best to stay away from Google Duplex until the company can work out the service’s very real problems.

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