When I got home from work Tuesday night I looked at my Google Pixel phone and said, "OK Google, book me a reservation at Due 360," an Argentinian restaurant in a nearby town. To my surprise, Google's smart voice assistant called the restaurant and booked a reservation for 6:45. I never had to touch my phone, open another app or even talk to someone at the restaurant.
It was wild.
It's a feature that began rolling out last month around the U.S. to some owners of Google's Pixel phones. Google's pilot started in Phoenix, Atlanta, San Francisco and New York, but I live in the suburbs of New Jersey, so I was surprised that it worked where I live, and for a restaurant I had no idea supported the service.
It blew me away, so I wanted to explain how it worked for me, and what the restaurant said when I arrived.
First, some background.
In May, Google announced a controversial new feature for its smart assistant called "Google Duplex" that it said would soon be able to call and make restaurant reservations using a human-sounding AI.
In June, I had a chance to see what it was like to be on the receiving end of one of those calls in a controlled demo where I picked up the phone when Google called. It was freaky how real the robot voice sounded, but it worked.
The tech community was skeptical about the ethics of the AI, and whether or not Google should "trick" people into thinking they were speaking to a real person. So Google's assistant will identify itself by saying "I'm Google's automated booking service" as it books a reservation. That's what it did when it called for me, and it confused the restaurant a little bit. I'll talk about that soon.
On a complete whim, and because I was using Google's new Pixel 3, I decided to see if Duplex was available in my area. Here's how the conversation went. Remember, this is just me talking to the Google Assistant on my phone. I never talked to another human.
"Make me a reservation at Due 360 in Summit New Jersey," I said.
"Sure, I'll call to make a reservation at Due 360. For how many people?" Google Assistant responded.
"2 people," I replied.
"Sure, for 2 people, for when?" Google Assistant asked.
"At 6:45 tonight," I said.
"Alright, for 6:45 today. Just in case that's not available, can I try between 6:45 and 7:45 p.m.?"
"No," I said.
"Sounds good, I'll only check for 6:45 p.m. I have a phone number here ending in [XXXX]. Should I try that to book?"
Here, Google is confirming the last four digits of my phone number to leave in case the restaurant needs to reach me.
"OK, I'll try calling them now, and update you within the next 15 minutes. You can always ask me about your reservation to check the status."
Google did the rest for me. I received an email confirming that my reservation was booked about 10 minutes later. Google's AI feature, named Duplex, called the restaurant, spoke on the phone to the restaurant's host and booked my reservation. All I had to do now was show up, and hope that it actually worked.
Fingers crossed, and with my wife probably silently wishing I'd called to confirm the reservation myself, we walked into the relatively empty restaurant. I walked to the host stand and said my name is Todd Haselton and I have a reservation for 6:45.
"OK great," the host said, ready to show me to my table. But I had to ask — did they realize I booked with Google?
"I know it sounds silly but I used Google to book that reservation," I said to the host. "Did it work?"
"Oh Google!" he exclaimed, motioning toward his colleague who had answered the phone when Google called.
"Did Google work?" I asked the man who had answered.
"Google! That was for you?" the restaurant employee asked. "Yes! It worked. It worked," he said, noting that he was confused at first why Google would be calling the restaurant to book a reservation.
Suddenly I had become the Google guy, and I had a sneaking suspicion that maybe the restaurant thought I worked for Google.
"Was it a human?" I asked, wondering if maybe during the trial period Google was using people to call restaurants instead of its robot. Google does, by the way, have people on standby in case the call gets too confusing for the restaurant.
My host said it sounded human, but that he could tell it was a robot and that it was a little weird. He didn't quite understand what was actually going on, but he was able to book the reservation just fine.
When I explained that I had used Google Duplex from my phone to book it, and that Google did it all for me, he was amazed. "It was perfect. Google worked perfectly. We got your reservation," he said.
My wife and I sat down and ate.
Later, when I got home, I received an email asking me how the restaurant booking experience with Google Assistant was, and if it worked or if I had any issues. I had no issues, but I also didn't have to do some of the more complex things Google Duplex can do, like changing or canceling a reservation.
I'm amazed at how well this worked. It's not available to everyone and everywhere right now, but it seems likely that Google will eventually expand this feature to other Android devices and maybe even eventually to the iPhone, where there's also a Google Assistant app.
And sure, I could have opened an app like OpenTable and booked my own reservation, but it was so much easier just speaking to Google while I was playing with my dog after work. Plus, it would be super useful if I just had headphones on and didn't want to pull out my phone, or if I was walking around town or driving. If anything, it's a fun example of how AI can play a role in our regular lives.