Purpose, potential and pitfalls of customer-facing voice AI


Back in 2018, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, demoed the Google Duplex assistant at the company’s developer conference. The assistant mimicked realistic and nuanced human speech patterns (complete with “ums” and “ahhs”) as it made an appointment for a haircut and booked a table at a restaurant while in fluent conversation with a real person.

Although the audience erupted in rapturous applause at the achievement, in the Twittersphere and beyond, observers were quick to question what they were hearing.

Some called the likeness “scary,” and others felt like a deception was at play — with the human on the other end of the line completely unaware that they were speaking with a bot.

In the end, the whole episode wasn’t great PR for artificial intelligence or for sophisticated voice technology. But that’s unfortunate because the truth of the matter is that voice AI has tremendous potential to empower consumers and deliver value to the businesses that deploy it — provided there is a clear understanding of its purpose and of its limitations.

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