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Google expands AI calling service Duplex to Australia, Canada, and the UK

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The service has been active in the US and New Zealand

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google’s automated, artificial intelligence-powered calling service Duplex is now available in more countries, according to a support page updated today. In addition to the US and New Zealand, Duplex is now available in Australia, Canada, and the UK, reports VentureBeat, which discovered newly added phone numbers on the support page that Google says it will use when calling via Duplex from a distinct country.

It isn’t a full rollout of the service, however, as Google clarified to The Verge it’s using Duplex mainly to reach businesses in those new countries to update business hours for Google Maps and Search.

And indeed, CEO Sundar Pichai did in fact outline this use of Duplex last month, writing in a blog post, “In the coming days, we’ll make it possible for businesses to easily mark themselves as ‘temporarily closed’ using Google My Business. We’re also using our artificial intelligence (AI) technology Duplex where possible to contact businesses to confirm their updated business hours, so we can reflect them accurately when people are looking on Search and Maps.” It’s not clear if a consumer version of the service will be made available at a later date in those countries.

Duplex launched as an early beta in the US via the Google Assistant back in late 2018 after a splashy yet controversial debut at that year’s Google I/O developer conference. There were concerns about the use of Duplex without a restaurant or other small business’ express consent and without proper disclosure that the automated call was being handled by a digital voice assistant and not a human being.

Google has since tried to address those concerns, with limited success, by adding disclosures at the beginning of calls and giving businesses the option to opt out of being recording and speak with a human. Duplex now has human listeners who annotate the phone calls to improve Duplex’s underlying machine learning algorithms and to take over in the event the call either goes awry or the person on the other end chooses not to talk with the AI.

Google has also expanded the service in waves, from starting on just Pixel phones to iOS devices and then more Android devices. The service’s first international expansion was New Zealand in October 2019.

Update April 9th, 2:15PM ET: Clarified that the Duplex rollout is to help Google update business hours for Google Maps and Search.