“Google Duplex sounds human when it, um, calls to book appointments” by Jenny McGrath . Click here to view source

For some people, the reason for choosing one hair salon over another is based solely on its ability to book an appointment online. On Tuesday, May 8 at the Google I/O  developer conference, Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, explained how its Google Duplex technology can help the phone-shy avoid having to actually speak to someone to make an appointment.

Around 60 percent of U.S. businesses don’t have online booking systems, according to Google. It’s been working on a way for users to give a time and date to Google Assistant, who can then make the call and set up an appointment. “It brings together all our investments over the years in natural language understanding, deep learning, text to speech,” said Pichai.

It can be an incredibly complex interaction. Using an actual call between Google Assistant and a hair salon, Pichai showed how it would work. The user asked the Assistant to make an appointment on Tuesday morning “anytime between 10 and 12.” During the call, Google Assistant sounded convincingly human, tossing in “ums” and “uhs” in a woman’s voice. “Give me one second,” the salon employee said. “Mm-hmm,” the Assistant responded. After some back and forth, the employee made an appointment for Lisa at 10 a.m. and sent a confirmation notification to the phone’s screen. There was no appointment available at noon — the time the A.I. initially requested, even though it isn’t really between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Still, it was an impressive demo.

For the next call, Google Assistant had to overcome a bit of a language barrier. The restaurant employee thought it was calling to make a reservation for seven people, not for the seventh. When she informed the A.I. caller that the restaurant didn’t make reserve tables for parties of fewer than seven, the A.I. asked how long the wait time would be. When the employee assured the Assistant it wouldn’t be a long wait on a Wednesday, it replied, “Oh, I gotcha, thanks.”

This technology isn’t quite ready at the moment, but Google is rolling out what Pichai called an “experiment.” During holidays, restaurants and businesses often have different hours. Google plans to use its Assistant to make one phone call to a bunch of businesses, then update its holiday hours for web searches. That way, restaurants can avoid getting dozens of calls about whether or not they’re open on Memorial Day, for example. Pichai said this experiment would start in a few weeks, so if it’s not working for that holiday, check again on the Fourth of July.

The real question is, how long will it be before a user’s Google Assistant starts talking to a business’ A.I. to book these appointments?