Google Duplex could soon take over call centres

Earlier this year, Google unveiled Duplex – an AI personal assistant with convincingly human speech patterns, capable of calling shops and restaurants on behalf of its users. While the tech company’s focus has been on how Duplex can make life easier for customers, recent reports suggest Google is also looking into ways the system can be leveraged on the other side of the phone line.

Google Duplex could soon take over call centres

According to The Information, Google has taken an interest in using Duplex to replace human workers at call centres. Citing a person familiar with Google’s plans, the site reports that Google is in conversation with an unnamed large insurance company to integrate the conversational AI in handling customer service calls.

Google denies testing Duplex with any specific enterprise companies. In a statement, the company says it is “currently focused on consumer use cases” for Duplex:

“We aren’t testing Duplex with any enterprise clients. Duplex is designed to operate in very specific use cases, and currently we’re focused on testing with restaurant reservations, hair salon booking, and holiday hours with a limited set of trusted testers.

“It’s important that we get the experience right, and we’re taking a slow and measured approach as we incorporate learnings and feedback from our tests.”

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Google has previously had to acknowledge criticism Duplex faced when it was first unveiled, particularly the ethical quandaries of building an AI system that convincingly masquerades as a human caller. In response, the company said it would ensure the AI is “appropriately identified” during calls – although has yet to clarify what this means.  

If Google was looking to bring Duplex into call centres, it wouldn’t be the first tech giant to consider rolling its AI into the telemarketing industry. A report from last year, again from The Information, claims that Amazon is planning to import the same natural language processing that powers Alexa into call centres.

With cloud-based call centres predicted to grow into a $21 billion market by 2022, there’s plenty of reason for the likes of Google and Amazon to take an interest in the sector. The flipside of all this would be the human impact of automation; something that could have a major impact of the economy of countries such as the Philippines and India, both of which employ large numbers of outsourced customer service workers.

Google’s promise that its current focus is on restaurant reservations may be a comfort to call-centre employees, but it’s hard not to imagine the company taking an interest in the sector. Of course, if Duplex also ends up answering calls on behalf of its users, then the AI system may end up only talking to itself.

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