Google is shutting down a rather obscure project: Google Duplex on the Web. “Duplex” is Google’s brand name for AI that performs “simple yet familiar tasks that save you time.” The brand exists on two products: this “web” feature and Google’s Voice AI impersonating humans, the latter of which is still running as far as we know. This version of Duplex, Duplex on the Web, was a feature of the Google Assistant that could autonomously browse websites on its behalf and do things like buy items and check in for a flight. The feature might not have been very popular, and TechCrunch stained a support page update that says Duplex on the Web will be dead by the end of the month.
duplex on the web thrown out in late 2019 and was announced earlier that year at Google I/O. The normal process of checking out for an item involves browsing and pasting a lot of saved data. You’ll need to find the item and possibly the time slot you want if it’s a reservation, enter your billing information, and mix in “next” a lot, and Duplex on the Web was supposed to be able to do all of that on its own. While it would probably be faster and more reliable if companies just built a voice API, Duplex on the Web was a gimmick. The Assistant would open his own web browser and individually click through the payment screens as he watched. In theory, Google’s automatic mouse clicker would have scaled well because it could provide voice support to a website without requiring any work on the website owner’s part.
Now, however, he is dead. Google’s support page says that “Duplex on the Web is deprecated and will no longer be supported at the end of this month. Any automation features enabled by Duplex on the Web will no longer be supported after this date.” Google told TechCrunch: “By the end of this year, we’ll be abandoning Duplex on the web and focusing entirely on making AI advancements in Duplex voice technology that helps more people every day.”
We’ll take a wild guess and say that the reason Duplex on the Web is dying is due to lack of usage. One of theMany) problems with voice assistants is that they are basically command line interfaces. There is no user interface or buttons to tell people what functionality is available, so users just have to to know what commands are worth saying. Most people can probably guess “what’s the weather like tomorrow?” It’s a valuable command, but probably very few people knew that the Assistant could autonomously navigate a website to buy a movie ticket or check in on a flight on his behalf. At least the command line interfaces have a “help” command that displays a large list of commands. Without a full list of accepted commands for the Google Assistant, it’s unclear how anyone is supposed to know about these features.
Aside from the perennial problem of discoverability, it’s not clear that this feature has solved a problem. It’s not exactly difficult to buy something online or book a flight because companies try to make those things as simple as possible.