Google will begin testing Duplex, its artificial intelligence-powered natural conversation technology, outside of the U.S. for the first time this week.
The Mountain View, California-based search giant will run a test in New Zealand, where Duplex will call businesses in a pilot group. The automated calls will ask to confirm businesses’ hours for the upcoming Labour Day holiday on October 28.
Google says in a blog post about the test that, once confirmed, it will update the hours on Google Maps and Search.
For those unfamiliar with Duplex, Google demoed the technology on stage at its I/O developer conference in May 2018 before rolling it out in stages in the U.S.
Stateside, Duplex allows users to book restaurant reservations through Google Assistant on their smartphone. A Google support page says the service works with any device that can access Search or Maps.
U.S. issues likely behind limited international tests
While the New Zealand test is much more limited than what Duplex offers in the U.S., there’s good reason for it.
The U.S. rollout has had issues. The Verge reports that many restaurants were confused by the automated Duplex calls, and some assumed the calls were spam. Further, reports indicate that humans place as many as a quarter of all Duplex calls. Google uses human calls to obtain more training data for its AI.
With these challenges in mind, limiting international trials makes a lot of sense. Even tests in other English-speaking countries can prove difficult thanks to regional differences in dialect, as well as accents.
However, those same factors hopefully put Canada in a prime spot for future international tests. Aside from accents, regional slang and spelling differences, Canadian English isn’t that different from the English south of the border. It wouldn’t be unlikely to see a limited Duplex test in Canada in the future, especially considering that Google filed a Canadian trademark for the technology. That said, an official Duplex rollout in Canada likely won’t come until the service reliably supports other languages, especially French.
As for the New Zealand pilot, it will serve as a test of Duplex’s ability to converse with people. As with Duplex in the U.S., Google says it will disclose to the recipient of the call when they are speaking with an automated system. The search giant began doing this in the U.S. after public outcry over how human Duplex sounds on the phone. Businesses can opt-out of receiving calls as well.
People and businesses interested in learning more should check out Google’s blog post about the New Zealand pilot.