An amount of fear has been kicked up over the last few days after a report claimed that Google had opened up its new Duplex AI communication technology for enterprise users and that these large companies were testing it to see if it could be deployed to serve the need that call centers fulfill now.
WHY THE STIR?
India is a global Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) hotspot with the industry providing direct and indirect employment to lakhs of people, thereby impacting lakhs of families. If AI is going to take jobs away from call centers, India would be one of the countries that is most under threat.
WHAT IS THIS FORM OF AI?
Over the last few years, enormous strides have been made in the field of 'artificial intelligence'. While this isn't artificial intelligence in the classical science-fiction sense, in the way that computers aren't actually sentient, it has reached a stage where one could have a conversation with a 'bot' and have it do things for you.
Perhaps the best known of these is Apple's Siri, which was introduced in 2011 and became an immediate, if temporary, cultural phenomenon as people had a gala time having all manner of conversations with her. Hot on Apple's heels, the other dominant tech majors, namely Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook (in a sense) have attempted to develop increasingly smarter voice-bots.
Amazon has a range of products around Alexa, Microsoft has Cortana, Google has its Now, Allo and Duplex (same Google Assistant underlying technology), and as for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg last year took up the challenge to build a JARVIS-like talking AI to help him with things at home, and as per his own account, he succeeded.
All of these AI voice-bots can perform basic to mildly-complex functions depending on how well they can understand (parse) what's been spoken to them and how well they're interlinked. For example, they can set alarms, play certain songs on YouTube and convert between different units of measurements.
WHAT DUPLEX COULD DO
While introducing Duplex in its I/O 2018 event, Google CEO Sundar Pichai's demonstration included Google Assistant calling a real salon and setting up an appointment. The audience got a big kick out of the salon staff not being able to differentiate between a human and a computer.
The twist that Google allegedly wanted to bring to Duplex was for it to work on behalf of the 'salon', i.e. the service a user would want to avail, too. So in this case, you'd call a salon and speak to what seems to be a human but is actually a natural-language-processing (NLP) interface who's putting a bit of a voice on. Scale this up and it isn't hard to imagine that the next time you call your mobile phone operator to find out why your internet isn't working, instead of having to stumble upon the number combination that'll take you to a call center operator, you'll simply be able to talk to the automated voice and get your job done!
You can't stop an idea whose time has come. If Duplex can actually prove itself to be a better alternative to automated response machines and call centers, and if companies decide that it would be beneficial to ditch one for the other, it could be deployed and all the fears over BPO jobs could indeed come true.
To take things further, AI could also be used for a similar purpose on chat apps. Imagine Facebook messaging your favourite restaurant, having a brief conversation about what table you need and when, and booking it without any human interaction!
Google has clarified that it is currently focusing on consumer-side cases for Duplex -- meaning the caller not the callee. It has stated that it isn't testing it with any enterprise clients.
So, do you think Duplex and voice-bots will replace call centers? Tell us what you think!