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MIT Technology Review

Google’s human-like voice helper can now fend off spam calls

Google’s unnervingly human-like voice system, Duplex, is gaining new responsibilities, the tech giant announced at the launch event for its Pixel 3 smartphone today.

Screen time: In addition to booking appointments and making reservations, Duplex can now screen your calls. When your phone rings, you’ll be able to summon Google Assistant with the tap of a button and have Duplex ask callers their name and purpose. A real-time transcript of the conversation will display on your screen. If it’s spam, you can immediately mark it as such. If not, you can pick up the call or send a message like “I’ll call you later.” The feature launches in the US today, and it will come to other Pixel devices next month.

I, robot: In the onstage demo, Google Assistant identified itself as a screening service—per a new company policy for bots to disclose themselves, according to Wired. When Google first demoed Duplex on stage, in May, the technology caused significant controversy because it mimicked human speech so convincingly without telling callers that they were speaking to a bot and being recorded.

AI-phone: Screen Call is one of several AI-powered features Google is adding to its phones. Enhancements to the Pixel’s camera software include the ability to keep focused on moving objects,  extract phone numbers from business cards, and identify products, such as the sunglasses your friend is wearing.

Competitive advantage: Google hopes that machine intelligence can help make Pixel stand out. “One of the most exciting stories we have this year is how much machine learning and AI we put into the product,” Seang Chau, vice president of Pixel software, told Fast Company. “I think it’s one of the things that allows Google to differentiate itself.”