Google has announced that it’s expanding its Duplex reservation system — which has an AI-driven assistant make restaurant reservations for you — to a total of 43 US states. It will work on Pixel phones in those 43 states, but it should be expanding to more Android phones and iPhones “in the coming weeks.”
Until recently, Duplex has been pretty restricted in its availability. Google characterized it as a sort of test for a “small group” of Pixel owners in “select cities.” This expansion doesn’t quite expand it to every restaurant, either: Google tells The Verge you’ll only be able to get the full Duplex experience with restaurants that don’t already work with Google’s “Reserve With Google” feature, which lets the Assistant book your table using a long list of third-party partners rather than calling the restaurant directly.
Google’s original Duplex demo at last year’s Google I/O stole the show because the virtual voice making the reservation sounded so realistic. But that demo was quickly overshadowed by concerns that Google didn’t sufficiently disclose that you were talking to a machine, not a human. Being told you’re talking to a machine is a good thing to disclose, but there’s a much bigger disclosure question related to laws about recording. Not all US states or other jurisdictions allow you to record without some form of consent. Not to mention that when you call into an automated system and it tells you it might be recorded, that might feel normal, but it feels completely different when that system calls you.
Google eventually cleared up that it would have Duplex disclose its identity in some way, but early users still felt that some of those disclosures were too vague.
That brings us to the final seven states where Duplex isn’t available as of this announcement: Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Indiana, Texas, and Nebraska. When asked about the lack of availability, Google gave The Verge this statement:
As we continue to bring Duplex technology to more users across the country, we want to ensure that we carefully respect local/state laws. We’re actively working to reach full coverage, but don’t have a timeline to share at this time.
As for the expanded set of 43 states, Google isn’t changing how Duplex discloses when it calls a restaurant. It still says it’s an automated system and will record the conversation at the beginning of the call.
From the user’s perspective, it is really easy to use. But my colleague Chris Welch notes that it can be a little weird to not be able to listen in on those calls yourself to hear exactly what happened. Now that Duplex is coming to more states and more devices, we’ll likely start to get a real test of how restaurant owners feel about having a robot make reservations instead of a human.
Update, 2:14 PM ET: Added Google’s clarification about how Reserve with Google is different from the full Duplex experience. Google has since deleted that passage in its blog post.