From The Verge: Google is piloting its Duplex service outside of the US for the first time, with a new trial to confirm holiday opening hours in New Zealand. Starting this week, the company says its AI-powered voice assistant will be calling up a “small number of local businesses” to ask about their opening hours during the country’s upcoming Labour Day public holiday on October 28th. The information will be used to update the businesses’ details on Google Maps and Search.
The functionality is much more limited than what’s currently available in the US, where VentureBeat notes that the service is currently being tested to make reservations, mainly for restaurants, across 48 US states. A Google support page says that the functionality is currently available on phones with the Google Assistant app, as well as any devices that can access Search or Maps.
The rollout has not been without its challenges. Many of the restaurants we spoke to earlier this year indicated that they were confused by the automated calls from Google, with some assuming that they were spam. Later that month, reports emerged that as many as a quarter of Duplex calls were actually being placed by human operators as the company attempted to obtain more data to train its AI.
In the context of these challenges, a limited international trial seems like a sensible choice. Duplex will be asking businesses in New Zealand for a fairly simple piece of information, and the results should give Google a good idea of how well its assistant is at talking to people in the country. Google says that Duplex’s calls will disclose when the person at the receiving end is talking to an automated system, and that businesses can opt out of receiving calls if they wish.
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