Since Google revealed a robo-caller that sounds eerily human earlier this month, the company has faced plenty of questions about how it works. Employees got some answers this week.
On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit shared more details on how the Duplex robot-calling feature will operate when it’s released publicly, according to people familiar with the discussion. Duplex is an extension of the company’s voice-based digital assistant that automatically phones local businesses and speaks with workers there to book appointments.
At Google’s weekly TGIF staff meeting on Thursday, executives gave employees their first full Duplex demo and told them the bot would identify itself as the Google assistant. It will also inform people on the phone that the line is being recorded in certain jurisdictions, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private matters. A Google spokesman declined to comment.
Google introduced Duplex earlier this month at its I/O developer conference, playing several clips of its assistant booking a hair cut and a restaurant table with impressively casual speech. The demo impressed developers, but mortified others who criticized Google for presenting an artificially intelligent bot that posed as human.
Two days after the demo, Google said the service will be “appropriately identified” on calls. And on Thursday, executives reassured staff that the Duplex team had been thinking about disclosure and ethical implications long before the reveal earlier this month.
Still, Google has yet to say whether the businesses used in its demos knew they were speaking with a Google bot or being recorded. Several U.S. states, including California, Washington, Florida and Massachusetts, have two-party consent laws that prohibit people or companies from recording phone conversations without consent, according to the Digital Media Law Project.
In a May 8 blog post about Duplex, Google said the service will benefit businesses that can’t book appointments online, giving them that option without additional expense or staff training. In the example where Duplex booked a hair appointment, the system said it was calling for “a client.” One of the people familiar with the situation said Google edited some of the recordings to protect the identity of the businesses involved. Although one of the locations was tracked down by tech news site Mashable.
A “60 Minutes” segment devoted to assertions that Alphabet Inc.’s Google wields a destructive monopoly in online search hammered home the notion of the company’s dominance during a time of heightened public concern with technology giants, while not surfacing new allegations.
The segment on the CBS television program highlighted how critics and rivals, such as Yelp Inc., are trying to bring Europe’s antitrust approach to Google to the U.S. Margrathe Vestager, the European Union competition commissioner, told CBS that she is intent on stopping Google’s “illegal behavior” in search, suggesting that the regulator isn’t appeased with the company’s proposed solution for the hefty charges the EU filed last year.
Alphabet shares fell 1.7% on Friday morning when the subject of CBS show was announced. The stock closed the day down 1.3% to R13 710 in New York.
The episode featured guests who argued Google abuses its dominance in search and search advertising. It didn’t show any evidence that U.S. lawmakers or enforcement agencies will target the company, according to a transcript. Nor does the segment mention the potential cases Vestager is pursuing against Google for its Android mobile software and advertising business.
The EU is still weighing Google’s remedy for Vestager’s one formal case, the charge that Google promotes its own services in its shopping search results, which brought a R34.5 billion fine. Europe could eventually levy a fine if it finds Google didn’t comply with its order last year to give equal treatment to shopping search rivals.
Most analysts see long odds of U.S. regulators bringing antitrust charges against Google. Should that happen, the case will probably end in a settlement with little material impact on the tech giant, a Bloomberg Intelligence report said on Friday. Google declined to speak to “60 Minutes” but gave the news magazine a statement denying that it’s a monopoly.