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Google Duplex could have a new job — taking the place of humans in call centers

By Lulu Chang

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When we first heard about Google Duplex, we thought of all the ways that it could reduce the amount of time thatwe would need to spend on the phone — no longer would we need to worry about calling to make reservations at restaurants, chatting with customer service, or otherwise taking care of annoying, phone-based tasks.

But what wedidn’tconsider quite as much was how efficient Duplex might be in playing our counterpart — that is to say, playing the endless, tireless telemarketer that we all can’t stand, or the customer service representative who can’t quite seem to get your request down. Now, it seems that Google may be looking for more commercial ways to employ its A.I. assistant. According to a report from The Information, Duplex could be replacing human callers, for better or for worse.

The Information cited a person familiar with Google’s plans in reporting that the tech giant is currently in negotiations with at least one potential commercial user that is seeking to bring Duplex into its operations. The company, an unnamed insurance firm, is said to be interested in employing the A.I. assistant not as a marketer, but rather as a customer service agent. Because Duplex sounds much more human (and is much more capable) than the automated systems that you currently have to get through before you’re connected to an actual person, it could help cut down on the amount of time that both customers and agents have to spend on the phone.

A spokesperson for Google noted, “We’re currently focused on consumer use cases for the Duplex technology where we can help people get things done, rather than applying it to potential enterprise use cases. We aren’t testing Duplex with any enterprise clients.” The spokesperson continued, “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.”

Of course, Google is by no means the only company looking to integrate artificially intelligent voice assistants into call centers. Amazon has already begun marketing a version of Alexa meant to reply to questions via phone and text, and The Information notes that IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco are also looking for ways to bring their own A.I. tools into the mix. It’s no wonder why, either — research firm ResearchAndMarkets has predicted that cloud-based customer call centers will be worth $21 billion by 2022, a more than three-fold increase from its $6.8 billion marker in 2017.

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