You can now command your Pixel phone to make a reservation for you and have Google Assistant do everything in the background. Using Google’s Duplex technology, Assistant will place a phone call to your chosen restaurant, have a voice conversation with the employee at the other end, and send you a confirmation that the reservation was successful and is set.
Duplex can sound eerily human. It’s a marvel of AI advancement. Google has said that, eventually, it will be able to make appointments at salons or call businesses to check their business hours for you (assuming they’re not listed in Google Maps). But for now, this technology is strictly for restaurant reservations.
Where is Google Duplex available?
Google says it has begun testing Duplex with a “small” group of Pixel 3 and 3 XL owners in “select cities.” The company had previously announced that tests would occur in Atlanta, New York, Phoenix, and the San Francisco Bay Area before ramping up and expanding to other locations. The Verge did not obtain special press access to test out the service; it is already live on several personal phones used by editorial staff.
What do I need to use Duplex?
Users must own a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL smartphone and be located within one of the test cities. Duplex doesn’t yet work on Android phones from other companies or on devices like Google Home speakers or smart displays with Google Assistant.
Ask Google Assistant to make a reservation with Duplex
Bring up Google Assistant on your Pixel by holding down the home icon or saying “OK Google.” From there, ask Assistant to make a reservation. Now, I’ve noticed that just saying “make a reservation” tends to bring up traditional search results for OpenTable and other services. That’s not what you want. But if you specify “make a dinner reservation” or “make a lunch reservation,” that should be enough to activate Duplex.
Pick the place you want to go
Here’s where it (already) gets a bit tricky. When you ask for a reservation, Assistant will show you a list of three or four nearby restaurants. But at this early beta stage, there’s no guarantee that Duplex can actually call and make reservations at any of those places. It’s all trial and error, and you’ll hear a lot of “I can’t make reservations at that particular restaurant” responses from Assistant. I’ve asked the company if there’s a straightforward way that I’m missing, but it doesn’t seem so.
Google has said that Duplex will be opt-out for businesses when it rolls out more widely over time, but during this early beta, the list of restaurants it’s willing to dial seems very limited. You can ask for a certain cuisine or neighborhood alongside your reservation request to cull the list a bit. It makes sense that Google isn’t only showing restaurants that field Duplex calls since you can also make reservations through OpenTable, but I wish there were an easier way of using Duplex without as many failed guesses. This is something that Google has to — and I suspect will — improve as Duplex rolls out to more users.
Tell Google how many people are going, what day, and what time
When you land on a restaurant that does work, Assistant will follow up and ask how many people the reservation is for, what day you want to make the reservation, and what time you want to arrive. It will also ask for a backup timeframe in the event that your original request is already booked.
Give it the okay to book under your name and with your phone number
The last step is giving Google one last confirmation to proceed with the reservation. It will give the restaurant your first name and also your phone number in case they need to get in touch.
Duplex makes a reservation within 15 minutes
Once you give the green light, Duplex places the voice call to the restaurant, where it uses Google’s AI technology to have a quick conversation with the restaurant employee. Duplex identifies that it’s calling from Google and notes that the call may be recorded before moving on to your reservation details. If it’s the AI doing the calling — and most Duplex calls fall under this — Google will acknowledge that the call is automated. But some Duplex calls are placed by human operators at Google.
Google promises to update the user within 15 minutes on the reservation status. My tests were all successful, with a confirmation email arriving very quickly — except in one instance where the restaurant had closed earlier than normal. If a place can’t be reached, you’re told as much instead of being left in the dark.
Duplex can also cancel reservations
In addition to setting up reservations, Duplex can call a restaurant back with the bad news that you won’t be able to make it. Whenever you do this, Google warns that Duplex will be unable to call that restaurant again for the remainder of the day — a measure clearly intended to prevent people from spamming businesses with Duplex calls.
Google has said it will prevent abuse of the system through several methods. Multiple cancellations will almost certainly flag you for unusual activity. And it’s not difficult for the company to take away access on an individual basis if it gets complaints about calls linked to a particular Google account. If you’re using Google’s robot AI to annoy people, you might lose out on its helpfulness. Use the robots responsibly.
Wait. But… what happened?
Here’s the thing: from the user’s perspective, you never really know exactly how a call went or what was said. Google isn’t yet offering any transcription of Duplex calls, nor are you able to listen to an audio recording after the fact.
This is the strangest part of using Duplex in these early days. It works as promised, but it leaves a lot of mystery in the air. I badly want to hear these calls, but for now, my curiosity — and yours, once you use it for the first time — goes unfulfilled.