Was the Google Duplex demo at Google I/O faked? (UPDATE: Restaurant tracked down, calls edited)


UPDATE: It appears that the restaurant in the Duplex demo was tracked down, and is believed to be Hongs Gourmet in Saratoga, California. An employee at the restaurant said that the call was made by Google Assistant and Google did not inform them ahead of time about the call. Apparently, the decorations inside the eatery match a photo Google posted on its blog showing Yaniv Leviathan, Google Duplex lead, and Matan Kalman, engineering manager on the project, taking advantage of the reservation made by Duplex. Additionally, Bloomberg reports that the calls were edited to hide the names of the salon and the restaurant. PhoneArena called Victor at Hongs Gourmet this afternoon, and he confirmed that Google had called the restaurant and made the reservation. He also said that Google had told him that the name of restaurant would be kept private (which explains the editing).

Remember that impressive demo of Google Duplex at Google I/O earlier this month? Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated how the new Google Assistant feature can make a phone call for you, engage in a two-way dialogue with the party at the other end of the phone, schedule an appointment, and report back to you the day and time that the appointment is scheduled for. Check out the video at the top of this story before you proceed.

Watch the demo? Good. Now we can pass along the thoughts of the Axios news website, which found enough red flags in the demo to make us wonder whether some of it was faked. For example, a business usually answers the phone by saying its name. The call to the hair salon was answered with "Hello, how can I help you?" The call to the restaurant was answered with "Hi, may I help you?" Axios called two dozen hair salons and restaurants, some in Mountain View, California (where Google is located). Every time the business picked up the phone, the person immediately gave the name of the business first.

Axios also pointed out that there was no background noise heard on either call. Axios noted that when they dialed up hair salons and restaurants, most of the time ambient noises like a hair dryer or clattering plates could be heard. Still, on some of the calls, such sounds were absent. Lastly, both businesses called on the demo never asked for the customer's phone number. Oops.

Axios asked Google for the name of the salon and the restaurant, promising that neither business name would be published. Google said that it would not disclose that information. The news site asked if the calls were edited at all in order to protect the businesses involved, and for the sake of time. The company said it would get back to Axios with an answer. They are still waiting for the reply.

So what are we to make of this? In this era where any story without complete transparency is labeled 'fake news,' it behooves Google to come clean about the Duplex demo. Come on Google, give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Otherwise, what just might be quite a leap forward for Google and Google Assistant will be tainted for the moment by questions about whether it is a real breakthrough (think about those lifelike strategic "uhs" Assistant makes during the calls), or a fake.

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