Hi, Google Duplex here, trying to book a haircut for a socially inept human. Sorry, 'COVID-19'?... DOES NOT COMPUTE

Chocolate Factory's AI call assistant will soon be getting confused by Brit idioms at the worst time possible

Almost one year after its flashy launch at Google I/O, the Chocolate Factory's AI call assistant, Google Duplex, is coming to the UK.

Google Duplex is effectively an AI personal assistant that can call real-life people and perform simple tasks, like booking reservations for restaurants and hair stylists, or confirming opening hours. The feature, which was initially baked into Google Assistant, was first available on Google's Pixel phones, before rolling out to other third-party Android mobes, as well as iOS.

An update to the Google Duplex support page shows the tool is rolling out in Australia, Canada, and the UK after an initial launch in the US.

Late last year, Google introduced the service in a limited form in New Zealand, where it was used to check the opening hours of businesses during the holiday period. How Google trained Duplex to understand the quintessential Aussie-ism of "yeah, nah" is beyond me, but that's not really important.

We know what you're thinking: this is arguably the worst possible time to expand such a product, given most non-essential leisure and retail businesses are shuttered. "Er, Hi. It's Google. Can I book a haircut? Sorry, what do you mean, coronavirus?"

But arguably more pertinent are the privacy issues, which have dogged Duplex since its launch. Early criticisms of the product hinged around the fact that barbers and hairdressers were unable to consent to having their voices captured and analysed by Google. Mountain View addressed this with a short warning played at the start of each call.

And because AI-powered voice recognition is a delicate (and by that we mean frequently wonky) art, Google has said that it relies on human operators to place as many as 25 per cent of Duplex calls.

That isn't surprising. Apple, Amazon and Google have all been caught using human operators in the quality control process for their voice assistant apps. As anyone with a speck of technical nous knows, it's inevitable. The problem in those previous cases though, is that they had failed to adequately disclose that fact to punters.

And one can't help but think of ill-fated UK startup SpinVox, which offered an AI-powered voicemail-to-text service in the 2000s, except all the heavy legwork was done by call centres in Pakistan and South Africa.

Details about the UK release, and the numbers it'll call businesses from, can be found on the Google Duplex support page. ®

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