Google's Duplex starts testing: Why going slow, business-first makes sense

Google is ironing out disclosure and things that make folks freak out. Now it's time for the business implications.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google is opening up its Duplex artificial intelligence system to a small number of testers to refine it, quell fears and ultimately figure out how lucrative it can be.

CNET and other outlets got a sneak peak at Duplex as Google opens it up to testers. The gist of most recaps revolved around tripping up Duplex and concerns about the technology, I'd recommend tabling those items and follow the money a bit.

Duplex is going to be a business-to-business tool, a future Google Cloud service and likely an advertising engine.

As a recap, Duplex is supposed to be able to call businesses and make appointments for you. It took me about 3 minutes to see the benefits of using Duplex as my digital twin. Other folks didn't quite see Duplex that way. Disclosure and ethics concerns surfaced instantly since Duplex is lifelike and even drops in an "um" in a conversation.


So now Google will reportedly enable Duplex to disclose that it's a Google Assistant. Duplex will call businesses to verify hours and folks will be able to book reservations at businesses in the weeks to come.

I'm willing to bet that Google's disclosure saying that Duplex is the Google Assistant will be reassuring. Once that disclosure is out of the way the average human will process that it's talking to a robot. Any Duplex freak-out factor will diminish within a year and Google gets its AI and machine learning poster child.

In other words, the critics are held at bay for a bit. Enter the business implications:

  • Duplex will be a business tool first. Of course, Google is trying Duplex out with business customers first. Duplex will learn from these calls, pique interest and more importantly bolster its knowledge base. Duplex will learn company hours and peak reservation times. Note that Google has this data in most cases already. Businesses may even share data to help Duplex learn in hopes of getting more traffic.
  • There's the obvious ad play here. Duplex will learn the small business market, but ultimately become a broader enterprise play. How valuable is a customer making a call to a business via Duplex? Insanely valuable since Google will have other data to fill out profiles. A business will be able to know if a customer placing a Duplex reservation call is an out-of-towner (one time visit) or a local (long-term relationship).
  • Duplex is ultimately a showcase for AI, machine learning and a service for Google Cloud Platform. If Duplex is this realistic couldn't it ultimately replace telemarketers? At the very least, Duplex is better than the average robo-call. What's the showcase part? If Duplex can carry on a conversation without any latency it will be the best ad for Google Cloud Platform ever. The playbook for Google Cloud and Duplex has already been written. Amazon launched Alexa, gained share with developers and consumers, created cloud services and then went enterprise.

The upshot is that voice UI is the future of enterprise applications. Google is going to be among the leaders.

Also: Five ways voice assistants are going to change the office | Amazon Alexa: Cheat sheet TechRepublic | Google Duplex: What should businesses expect?

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