Tech, Now + Beyond

How Google Duplex could be a game changer for phone anxiety

What if your phone could also be your personal assistant?

Does the thought of making a phone call make your start to sweat? You’re not alone. Many of us would rather let a call go to voicemail instead of picking up the call. For some, it’s a result of social anxiety. We’ve gotten really comfortable texting our friends to share memes and updates on life, but phone calls usually mean there’s a more pressing matter. It makes sense that one would start getting anxious sweats and knots in their stomach when tasked with making a call to talk directly to another human.

Source: Giphy [Image desctription: A woman looks shocked, holding a phone to her ear.]

No More Phone Calls?

Whether you’re an anxious person, a busy person, or just don’t feel like making a call, the reality is that you can’t avoid them. Phone calls may feel like an ancient art at this point but are essential for navigating daily life. While a lot of businesses offer online scheduling, you should still expect to have to dial a number and speak with someone directly about dinner reservations or scheduling a haircut.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had an articulate, competent personal assistant to make these calls for you? Google thinks so, too, and has developed a new feature for Google Assistant called Google Duplex. 

Source: Giphy [Image description: A man stands in front of a Google powerpoint that says “How can I help?”]
Thanks to machine learning and AI, Google has developed technology that can make calls on your behalf. The coolest, and maybe weirdest, part of it is how natural the voice sounds. It’s so real that the person on the other line probably can’t even tell they’re not talking to an actual human. According to Google, the Assistant “can understand complex sentences, fast speech, and long remarks, so it can respond naturally in a phone conversation”. 

So, who can this help? Well, you, of course! Simply by texting the Assistant, you can schedule an appointment and have it added to your calendar. Assistant will first go online and try to schedule or find the business hours you’re looking for. But if a phone call is required, the Assistant will handle it for you.

Source: Giphy [Image description: A humanoid robot turns and looks at the camera]
Let’s say you want to book a hair appointment on Saturday between 12 and 3 p.m at a salon that doesn’t take online appointments. You provide the Assistant with your availability and it takes care of the rest. It even uses fillers like “um” and “ah”. Is that creepy? Maybe a little. Check it out for yourself. 

Google and Accessibility

There’s some controversy about whether Google Duplex will help or hurt small businesses, and if it violates the two-party consent laws that require both parties to be aware that they’re being recorded.  While these are important issues that need to be considered, I really hope this technology continues to advance. Google is making strides when it comes to accessibility. For example, they’ve developed a disability support team available to provide support specifically for Google’s assistive technology. Duplex could prove to be hugely beneficial for users with motor impairment.  As head of the Central Accessibility Team at Google Eve Anderson wrote on Google’s blog, “the possibilities for accessible technology are greater than they were 20 years ago in part because of the advancement of technologies like AI.”

Making Life a Bit Easier

My chronic pain often leaves me feeling drained and any extra help is appreciated. As someone who has to schedule an above average amount of doctor’s appointments, I’ve grown pretty comfortable making phone calls.  At the same time, I would love to never have to worry about waiting on hold to schedule appointments again. If I could rid my life of terrible hold music, I think the quality of my life would improve. 

I wish I could go back to simpler times when my parents would handle all of this Adult Stuff. I’m an adult now and adults have robots to schedule their appointments and make dinner reservations.