Google Assistant auditions to be your personal digital twin via Duplex

Google's latest tech experiment enables Google Assistant to call businesses, talk to humans and book appointments for you. It's just the beginning of transforming Google Assistant to become a digital twin of you.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Video: Google's Assistant gets an AI upgrade with Duplex

Google has outlined Duplex, a Google Assistant enhancement.

Google's future success with consumers and businesses may ultimately rest on whether its Google Assistant can serve as your personal digital twin.

At Google I/O, CEO Sundar Pichai detailed an experiment with Google Assistant that leverages a technology the company calls Duplex. Duplex was developed to bring more artificial intelligence to Google Assistant, make calls for you, book appointments, and connect businesses with consumers.

"Done correctly, this will save time for people and generate a lot of business. We're going to work hard to get this right," said Pichai, who noted that Google is "working hard to give people back time."

On its Google AI blog, the company outlined how Duplex works, how it uses TensorFlow and manages its neural network. The model looks like this when Duplex deals with an incoming conversation.


Google noted:

To train the system in a new domain, we use real-time supervised training. This is comparable to the training practices of many disciplines, where an instructor supervises a student as they are doing their job, providing guidance as needed, and making sure that the task is performed at the instructor's level of quality. In the Duplex system, experienced operators act as the instructors. By monitoring the system as it makes phone calls in a new domain, they can affect the behavior of the system in real time as needed. This continues until the system performs at the desired quality level, at which point the supervision stops and the system can make calls autonomously.

The conversation plays out like this:


A cynic would note that using Google Assistant to manage appointments and calls to businesses could also drive ad revenue gains. At the very least Duplex will make a nice enterprise service on Google Cloud Platform.

But I'll table that cynicism for one simple reason: I need a digital twin.

What's a digital twin? In the enterprise, a digital twin is a replica of a physical machine or object. The idea is to run scenarios for predictive maintenance, prototype improvements, and develop products and services faster. A digital twin for a wind turbine is one thing; having a digital replica of yourself to handle tasks is quite another.

More on Google: Google makes it easier to incorporate machine learning into mobile apps | Google preps TPU 3.0 for AI, machine learning, model training | Google Assistant is about to get much smarter | CNET: Google's Android P will use AI to save your phone battery life | Google's Duplex could make Assistant the most lifelike AI yet

Now, as Pichai's demo highlighted, Google Assistant today is more about using AI, and natural speech recognition is really more about outsourcing. You can have Google Assistant make a round of calls -- at least when the service graduates from an experiment.

Duplex will also be used to update search results, as Google Assistant makes calls to businesses to update holiday hours and changes from the norm.

Outsourcing tasks to Google Assistant -- via Android or Google Home -- is notable and can give it a leg up versus Amazon Alexa. But the big picture will revolve around the digital twin. The parts are in place to ultimately have Google Assistant act on your behalf.

Today, Google Assistant also gets more voices. At Google I/O in 2020, maybe Google Assistant will get your voice.

More on digital twins: The rise of the Digital Twin: Why the enterprise needs to take notice | Cutting through the noise and defining the value of the digital twin for your business | Enterprises mull using Digital Twin tech to optimize systems: What is it? | In-memory architecture + streaming data = Digital Twins? | Internet of Things projects: Why your business needs to build a digital double

Rest assured that this digital twin scenario will creep people out. There was something delightfully creepy about Pichai's demo of Duplex and using Google Assistant to make calls. On the other hand, consider how much time is spent on the mundane. A digital replica of you could get a lot done.

In addition, Google is going to learn a lot more about you as you use its services. For instance, Google will start prodding you to take a break from screentime based on your behavior.

Initially, I thought this digital twin concept would be delivered by a bot technology. Google Assistant, Duplex, and voice provides a better road. CNET, in a profile of Duplex, noted:

If the goal is for the Assistant to be Google personified, it still has a lot of evolving to do. So far, Google's helper -- and honestly, Alexa, Siri and Cortana, too -- haven't lived up to their promise.

Google personified is just the first step. The real win is to have Google become your digital twin and act on your behalf. Consider me on board once the Duplex experiment develops a bit more.

Android P: All the new features and tools announced (so far)


Apple CarPlay: The good, the bad, and the what were they thinking?

CarPlay, for what it is, works nicely. It's incredibly limited in some really dumb ways, and it's very expensive. Should you buy it? We'll tell you right now: Probably not.

Google Assistant now connects to over 5,000 smart home devices

The Google Assistant supported just 1,500 devices back in January.

Amazon gives Alexa a memory, better conversational skills

Aiming for more natural, frictionless interactions with Alexa, Amazon is rolling out some big enhancements to its voice-activated assistant.

Apple iPhone X early adopters: We love everything about the phone, except Siri

iPhone X owners are happy with every aspect of their purchase, with one glaring exception.

Search is evolving from desktop and keyboard to voice

Christi Olsen, head of Evangelism for Search at Microsoft, explains how AI and machine learning build the intelligence behind the scenes, with Microsoft's Cortana on the front end.

Wake words and voice UI are coming to our favorite apps

At last, there is a breakthrough in AI technology that could change how we will interact with our favorite mobile apps.

Editorial standards