At I/O 2018, Google demonstrated Duplex, a feature coming to Assistant that can make phones calls and make business appointments on your behalf. It was one of the sickest tech demo at I/O this year and one that split the opinion of people. While some considered it downright empowering, others dismissed it as scary and perfect example of robot apocalypse. However, Google is not alone in that space.
Microsoft also has a similar technology that enables duplex communication for millions of people in China. The Redmond-based technology giant showcased the tech at an AI event in London in the form of company’s Xiaoice (pronounced “SHAO-ICE”) social chat bot. Early this month, Microsoft said that its AI chatbots can now interact like humans and at the event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed of the technology with a phone call similar to that of Google Duplex.
Nadella also revealed that Xiaoice has 500 million friends and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it on WeChat and other social messaging platforms. Microsoft is trying to convince Chinese users that Xiaoice is a friendly bot and is pitching the AI chatbot as a friend or another human being on their mobile device. “Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things. It’s a bit of a celebrity,” explains Nadella.
Watch: Demo of Xiaoice’s duplex conversation
While Google Duplex is designed as a voice first interface, Xiaoice still uses text for most of its interactions. Microsoft’s Xiaoice also differs from Google Duplex in one key area. While Duplex uses Assistant to make phone calls on your behalf, Xiaoice comes across as a friendly bot that holds a telephonic interaction with you. “One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations,” Nadella said at the event.
The full duplex communication, one where both participants can speak at the same time, is seen as the next frontier for AI-based voice communication. Microsoft is using the same technology with Xiaoice where the bot will call and engage in natural interaction. According to The Verge, Xiaoice is limited to China and Microsoft does not seem to be planning to bring it to other markets.
It is also unclear why Microsoft is offering the technology in the form of a chatbot instead of building it right within the interface of Cortana, its AI-based digital assistant found on more than 700 million Windows 10 devices. One logical explanation could be that Microsoft is trying to avoid user backlash around such advanced technology being implemented into its core product.
Google’s Duplex demo at I/O 2018 has been termed as staged and the search giant later clarified that it will tell its human callers that they are talking to a bot. Google has mostly refrained from answering questions pertaining to the technology. Microsoft seems to be avoiding the rookie mistake here but the full duplex conversation will soon be a common thing on the digital assistant of your choice.