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The Human-Sounding Duplex AI by Google Finally Launches for Public Testing

The Human-Sounding Duplex AI by Google Finally Launches for Public Testing |

The search giant gives us a closer look at its controversial artificial intelligence software while it works to tamp down fears about the technology.

The Human-Sounding Duplex AI by Google Finally Launches for Public Testing
Google Vice President Nick Fox discussed the company's Duplex AI at a press event in Mountain View, California (James Martin/CNET)

Google is moving ahead with Duplex, the stunningly human-sounding artificial intelligence software behind its new automated system that places phone calls on your behalf with a natural-sounding voice instead of a robotic one.

The search giant said Wednesday it's beginning public testing of the software, which debuted in May and which is designed to make calls to businesses and book appointments. Duplex instantly raised questions over the ethics and privacy implications of using an AI assistant to hold lifelike conversations for you.

Google says its plan is to start its public trial with a small group of "trusted testers" and businesses that have opted into receiving calls from Duplex. Over the "coming weeks," the software will only call businesses to confirm business and holiday hours, such as open and close times for the Fourth of July. People will be able to start booking reservations at restaurants and hair salons starting "later this summer."

On Tuesday, Google invited press to Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View, California, a small Israeli restaurant two-and-a-half miles away from its corporate campus, to see the first live demos of the project and try it out for ourselves. (Google wouldn't allow video recording of the demos, though. A similar press event was held at a Thai restaurant in New York City a day before.)

The event was also a chance for Google to clear the air on Duplex, which has been under scrutiny from the moment Google CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled the technology at its I/O developer conference. Google gave me an early peek at Duplex in May, but declined to give me a live demo, making it difficult at the time to assess how the technology might actually work in real life.

Unlike the semi-robotic voice assistants we hear today -- think Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri or the Google Assistant coming out of a Google Home smart speaker -- Duplex sounds jaw-droppingly lifelike. It mimics human speech patterns, using verbal ticks like "uh" and "um." It pauses, elongates words and intones its phrases just like you or I would.

But that realism has also freaked people out. Critics were concerned about the ethical implications of an artificially intelligent robot deceiving a human being into thinking he or she was talking to another person.

Read More at CNET.COM

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