What would happen if you got a phone call asking to make an appointment at your business?
The person on the other end of the line was friendly and held a completely normal conversation where they answered all of your questions as you would expect.
Would you ever even think about whether you might be speaking to a robot instead of a human?
Watch the following video and prepare to be amazed:
What you just heard in the video above is a tech demonstration of a new project which Google is working on, currently called Duplex.
It was shown off as part of a stage demo at Google’s annual Developer conference and quickly stole the show.
In it, a human voice phones up a restaurant (and then also a hair salon) to make an appointment for the phone’s owner.
It proceeds to speak to the receptionist in a completely natural-sounding human voice, including strategically places “ummms” and “ahhs” to sound incredibly lifelike.
It then even manages to answer questions over the phone from the receptionist and complete the booking.
All without the receptionist ever being told or being aware that they were speaking to a robot.
What the crowd just witnessed was a peek into the future, with a new level of interaction between virtual assistants (VAs, like Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Siri and Cortana) where it is becoming almost impossible to distinguish them from people.
After all, Alexa and the other VAs can already understand people’s voice commands and answer in a near-human sounding way.
This just takes it to the next level, where the unique human imperfections are designed to make someone think they are having a conversation with the owner of the phone, rather than software.
For me, and many of the people in the room who cheered, it was the moment the software said “mm-hmmm” that really made me open my eyes.
In fact, people are now debating online whether this means that Google Duplex just passed the Turing Test, where a piece of software can convince someone it is human. While some say a firm no, others say it is closer than people realize.
Apparently, the system will identify itself as a robot when actually talking with people to ensure they are aware.
But the question is actually what this trend actually foreshadows.
Duplex is enabled by Google’s heavy investment in Artificial Intelligence, based on the advancement of machine learning.
In fact, they recently reshuffled their leadership cabinet to double-down on their belief that investment in AI is the future.
And in recent years, Google has made huge strides in AI, with one of the clearest indicators being the defeat of the humanity’s greatest player in the game of Go.
So while their AI currently helps power their Youtube and Search recommendations, and allows you to check the weather by asking your phone.
AI is already making decisions on the road in driverless cars.
What will it enable people to do in the future?
And more importantly, what will people eventually feel comfortable having the system do for them?
We are now at a stage where we are letting Amazon Alexa automatically purchase products at our command, since this saves us time and hassle.
While most people would probably cringe at the idea of letting their phone’s software impersonate them to a stranger on the other end of the line, will that feeling change as we get more used to offloading menial tasks to our virtual assistants?
Based on the rate of technological progress and how engrained our phones in our lives are, I predict that within a few years the majority of people will begin to entrust their phone’s software with tasks they currently perform themselves.
Making reservations would be a logical first step.
But what about the next evolution?
What is there were tasks which were personal, but you knew the software could perform for you instantly and 100% accurately?
Hey Google, book me a holiday in Bali from the 3rd to 6th of June at a 4 or 5* resort, and add the flight details to my calendar.
Hey Alexa, complete my tax return and send it off to the IRS, please.
Hey Siri, renew my passport.
While this may seem like a while off, soon enough we will all be relying more and more on our VAs.
And who knows, when your children one day phone to wish you a happy birthday, will you even be sure it is them calling…?