What does Google Duplex mean for businesses?

The announcement

Google Duplex is the recently announced AI & voice service which can call businesses and ask questions – either on your behalf to make a booking, or on Google’s behalf to find out business details like opening times.

There are some pretty good articles out there summarising the recent announcement, so here are our top 3 picks in increasing order of techy-ness:

BBC’s news article about Duplex
Are Technica’s rundown of the I/O keynote about Duplex
Google’s own blog post

If you want to know more about what’s possible with Duplex right now, have a read of (at least) one of the above first, as I want to talk to you about the things we should be preparing for next.

What we expected

Us lot at Home have been very much expecting voice & AI-powered functionalities to grow along these lines for some time, as well as the less-recently announced Shopping Actions.  It’s all pretty exciting stuff, if not fully realised – but we can’t not mention the allegations that it’s a bit smoke and mirrors at the moment (see for example this piece from Vanity Fair). Allegations aside, the direction in which Google is going – that’s AI taking on the tasks of people – is loud and clear.

Why stop at phone calls with humans?

For starters, if I can have an AI assistant ring a business for me, there’s no reason the business can’t have its own AI assistant to respond. I’ve already posted before about Actions on Google and similar brand assistants, and this is more of the same. If you have basic activities which are currently handled by real people, but are simply checking against a database (think for example, an FAQ or a booking engine), handling it with a brand assistant could save time and money for your business.

From there, it’s not a stretch to make these brand assistants answer your phone too – like much better versions of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) which lots of businesses already use.

But, if consumers (like you and I) have their own assistants, and businesses have their assistants, we could skip out the intermediary step of having to have two AIs talk to each other over the phone, and instead just send information over the internet like any piece of software. In the not too distant future, we could all have our own AIs syncing up with the AIs of friends or businesses to arrange our plans on our behalf.

Unsurprisingly, people will tend to pick easier options, so as businesses, we need to make sure we’re ready for this change so that when customers start expecting it, we’re all set. How? By making sure you have brand assistants setup now, or at least make sure your information is in a consistent and clear format, so that these expanding tools can take advantage of it.

Sooner or later, we’ll have to be ready for robots accessing our (digital) interfaces for people, rather than people directly.

Don’t make AIs think (more than they need to)

One of the features announced with Duplex is the ability for Google to ring a business to ask for missing information. For instance, if a businesses’ opening hours are not displayed in the search results, Google can ring up and ask, which is very handy. What happens, however, if there’s a bad line, or a strong accent, or some other issue which can confuse Google’s understanding? Google could take that incorrect detail and put it on Google My Business.

A core theme that runs throughout all of design is “Don’t Make Me Think”, and this is just as true when the “Me” is an AI or a regular human. Whilst our AIs are becoming very sophisticated, particularly Google, they are still limited by the information they receive and the way that information is represented.

The above might be a silly example, but it shows the flaw with relying on Google to perfectly interpret our information, particularly when there’s already an option to tell Google the things it needs to know, in the format it wants it in (i.e. the ‘Google My Business’ interface). Just be clear, and don’t rely on Google to interpret everything accurately as this feature grows. Google and other robots are audience segments just like people from different demographics, and each have their own biases and ways of interpreting our information.

What’s next?

The key to all of this is understanding that this is a steady march of progress which Google’s AI (and others) offer, and if we don’t adapt our information and data to be easily accessible, we could lose out.

If you want to know more about how AI changes could impact your brand or business, and how you should be capitalising on these opportunities, drop us a line to aio@homeagency.co.uk.