Google CEO Sundar Pichai broke a new barrier in artificial intelligence technology Tuesday when he unveiled a voice assistant that sounds exactly like a human voice.
At the I/O developers conference, Pichai introduced Google Duplex, which allows the Assistant to speak with human-like cadence and includes artificial intelligence that is able to comprehend context and unclear answers.
Pichai demonstrated Duplex’s ability by having Assistant make reservations with a restaurant and a hair salon in two recorded phone calls. The receivers of the calls seemed to have no idea they were speaking to an AI voice. In the phone calls, Google Assistant said “ums” and “uhs” to make itself sound more human. In its phone call with the restaurant, where it was too busy to book a reservation, Google Assistant was able to naturally respond to questions and remarks made in a thick accent.
Duplex will roll out as an experimental feature in the coming weeks, Pichai said.
“We’ve been working on this technology for many years,” said Pichai. “We’re still developing this technology, and we want to work hard to get this technology and the expectations right.”
Pichai also introduced a slew of artificial intelligence-powered tools in its suite of apps, including Gmail’s upcoming ability to help compose emails and Google Photos’ edit suggestions and ability to automatically turn document photos into PDF files.
“We are at an important inflection point in computing,” said Pichai. “We know the path ahead needs to navigated carefully and deliberately.”
Analysts were impressed by Google’s continuing commitment to artificial intelligence.
“Where mobile was once the platform for Google’s development and growth, artificial intelligence is now the basis that underpins the full spectrum of Google’s endeavors,” said CCS Insights analyst Geoff Blaber. “Google is weaving its assistant deeper into services such as maps and making it more immersive through visuals.”
While some media attendees voiced their concerns on social media of Duplex’s science fiction-esque potential, one analyst said the technology was “still a long ways to go.”
“At the end of the day, (the calls were) just booking an appointment at a restaurant,” said Creative Strategies’ consumer technology analyst Carolina Milanesi. “These are fairly easy interactions.”
This year’s I/O keynote speech, attended by more than 7,000 developers, Google staff and press, continued last year’s emphasis on AI. In the past year, Google doubled down on its AI efforts, which included Monday’s announcement that its artificial intelligence research will consolidate under a separate Google AI division.