2x32: IO, IO, It's Off To Work We Go


Jeremy Garcia, Jono Bacon, and Stuart Langridge present Bad Voltage, in which it was Google.IO, the big G’s developer conference, and they had a lot to announce… so we take a deeper dive into some of the upcoming stuff and what we think.

  • [00:00:45] General feelings and the overall feel
  • [00:02:25] Duplex: Google Assistant making phone calls to real people to book hair salon appointments and the like. This was by far the thing which got the most press from this IO, and... we have some thoughts. Lots.
  • [00:25:00] Android P: swipe gestures are coming (again)
  • [00:27:05] Digital wellness: helping people unplug, a bit, from their devices. This is an interesting turn from Google, whether done for cynical reasons or shining ones, and the sort of thing that the Center for Humane Technology have been talking about a lot
  • [00:36:40] Google News are planning to use (say it with me) AI and machine learning to curate news and automatically pull in other reads of a given story from different points on the political spectrum
  • [00:44:00] Smart Compose is a new Gmail feature which will make writing suggestions to you when writing a mail; we're still arguing about Smart Replies, the pre-canned single-button responses, which Stuart bizarrely doesn't like for no good reason and Jeremy and Jono point this out at some length
  • [00:51:10] Smart displays with Google Assistant, and the Echo Show
  • [00:53:00] Google Photos automatically picking up foreground objects by using AI and machine learning (ya rly!), potentially bringing the "portrait lighting" mode from the iPhone X to Android natively rather than a million manual apps in the Play Store
  • [00:54:16] Maps now has augmented-reality walking directions, with a little cartoon fox for you to follow. And some discussion of whether integrating lots of stuff into Maps is a good idea or not
  • [01:02:00] A grab-bag of extras: Leap to translate menus with AR, Chromebooks being able to run Linux apps, and overall thoughts on Google's direction

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@sil 42:27 "Why don’t we set-up a site that balances these things … "

That is called WikiTribune. :wink:


On the topic of the smart replies, I know where Aq is coming from (in some ways it’s very similar to the argument of whether having Duplex call up on your behalf is a good idea or not). Back in the days when email posting style was treated a lot differently to now and you would spend time quoting and trimming your email, I sometimes had a bit of disquiet about “reusing” the greeting from the email I was replying to. Completely irrational, but there you go.

If it’s not clear what I mean, here’s an asciicast:



Most of this episode was taken up with Google Duplex, and I have to point out something no one else brought up: who makes phones calls these days anyway? To me it was like Elon Musk invented a pair of hands that could control a set of reins and a buggy whip. Cute, just not very practical.

Seriously, the only time I call a vendor, such as my hotel, airline, bank or Internet provider, is when there is an issue their website can’t handle. I doubt that Duplex will be able to deal with it any better.

I’m pretty much on Team Jeremy in that Duplex might be useful on the vendor side more than the customer, but a lot of modern IVR systems already have algorithms similar to what Duplex would provide. Having worked on such systems in the past, I know that the good ones respond to tone and language, and my office mates often look at me funny when I start screaming obscenities into the phone as usually that will get me to a human being faster. The anger is simple to create since the audio, as I’m waiting on hold, will offer the advice such as “many of your questions can be answered by visiting our website”. Trust me, if it could, I wouldn’t be on the phone.

There are already numerous ways to make appointments and reservations online, such as OpenTable, and there is at least one Alexa skill for doing that for you. A dialog such as “Alexa, make a reservation for 7pm” followed by a reply of “There isn’t a table available at 7pm, how about 7:30?” would be more useful than anything Duplex could provide, and I disagree with Jono that restaurants won’t simply hang up when Duplex calls. I don’t think the French Laundry would put up with that, for example.

Google wanted something for their keynote that would spur discussion and make people think “wow, that Google is really cool”. In that they succeeded, but there is no way Duplex will be a feature available to the masses any time soon. I hope the gang revisits this after next year’s IO to see if this prediction is right.


One way to prevent Explore covering all but an inch of your map is to have a screen bigger than 2 inches tall…


I think you have to look at it practically.

For example if /r/HaveWeMet had a “cookie” store. and you know me, I really like those cookies … but I felt anxious about ordering the pink ones because they are supposed to be for girls (and I am a boy) - I would use this service to do the job for me as a pickup.

Its not necessarily so, that the customer service is so immature to be offering a service that allows for snide remarks or looks of disapproval at the counter**
but more that this is a way to “know” if the store CAN fore-fill my request before I pick up the phone and waste the money on the call.

It’s just another siri proprietary bottle-neck.

This throws up several questions:

  1. Does the expedia-like Duplex integrate reviews for the store through googie amazon dot thingy ?
  2. Can I ask what is the stock-count is like for “cookies” - if its a store/room-service ?
  3. Will I be able to be reminded of previous orders - “You reserved a Schwarzenegger rifle last month Hillary (!) , wouldn’t you like Soviert-era Uzi this time ?”
  4. Is there add-ons to this service ? e.g. event-guides that tell you what to expect ? This could actually be where bluebadge guides may need a bigger tip-jar if millions of people hear the same review or even a custom route audio guide ?
  5. As Far As Tips I wonder is there a Patreon angle here (?)
  6. Choice = bottom line. Therefore expect Uber and the like to embrace this.
  7. Languages. Can this be used in a hotel console aswell - thereby replacing the Conceirge with a better service for Intl. visitors ?
  8. If we are going full corporate - How do you spend crypto on one of these things, in a hotel, whilst drunk, and still trust the device ?
    Microsoft’s expected response “we fully integrate face-scanning after 2021, rest-assured”
    Apple’s expected response " we fully integrate this service into iTalk on watches after 2022."
  9. The Evan Breen ending,
    Where the heck is - mycroftservices.com when ya need them ?

I guess I am with Jono’s perspective on this.

If its just you, the agent and the googie-howser service, then where is the community ?
= because google maps reviews really sucks enormous moose-wang.

** I mean - I do like “cookies trips”.

Lastly, No! I didn’t watch the friggin’ wedding. I had rhubarb crumble, vanilla-custard and Every Valley instead thank-you very much :man_firefighter:



Also, bite me :slight_smile:

It is a semi-reasonable point, I admit.


My dad. People who aren’t all that technologically aware. People who don’t live in cities. The Rising Sun in the town where I grew up are not on OpenTable, and I bet most people in town wouldn’t think to use it even if they were.


So here’s interesting. It seems to imply that all Google Duplex calls will be recorded. Probably best that they tell the people they called…


No, because Duplex is a natural language extension of Google Assistant, and nothing to do with Expedia?

Only if somehow you’ve asked Google Assistant to ask that specific question, and if Duplex is smart enough to a) ask it, b) comprehend a response, and c) make a decision based on your original query (e.g. “I need 5 cookies, make sure they have enough”).

That’s not what Duplex specifically does.

That’s not what Duplex does.

A Patreon angle to a virtual assistant making phone calls on your behalf?

Uber et al already have an app which doesn’t require a phone call to be made, so I would expect them not to show any interest in this whatsoever. Also Uber don’t offer telephone support to passengers, only drivers.

That’s not what Duplex does, however something like Amazon Sumerian coupled with Amazon Lex would likely be more appropriate, and that specific scenario is one of AWS’s example use cases.

What device? Google Duplex is a cloud service operated on your behalf by Google Assistant, so the device realistically is your phone.

But to get to the point where Google Duplex is calling somewhere on your behalf, surely you have already utilised your own favoured community to inform your selection of restaurant, hairdresser, etc. All Google Duplex is doing is making a phone call after you’ve told Google Assistant, “hey, book me a table for 2 at [insert restaurant name here] at 7pm tomorrow night”.

Also, if a cookie store is judging you on your choice of cookie colour, tell them to fuck off. FOX’S PARTY RING BISCUITS MOTHERFUCKERS!





I had to on Saturday night, to a new takeaway place that doesn’t have it’s own website set up yet, and also isn’t on the usual ordering sites (Just Eat, etc).

This is probably the most important point. Look at all the buzz Google has had over this one thing that hasn’t even shipped yet, and may not even make it into a commercial product. Jon Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed this out citing past announcements:

But I think the other problem is with the media, that, time after time, buys into Google’s demo claims unquestionably — and then never circles back to them when they don’t ship.


Stuart’s comment at 1:13 resonated most with me wrt. Google. First doing everything to serve capitalism regardless on how it impacts people, and when the predicted fiascoes start to happen become the philanthropic party that will make the world better? Too easy IMO. I don’t believe one minute those geniuses at the top were not aware what they were creating and how to mitigate the associated risks.

Also: hello, and nice to ‘meet’ you !! :slight_smile:


Yeah, my Dad is the same way, but there is no way he’d also use Google Duplex.

The point I was trying to make is that people who embrace digital assistants will have a number of options, and making a phone call is lower on the list. I actually tried to do this just yesterday. I wanted to book a popular restaurant and it wasn’t on OpenTable. Instead it is on “Tock”. I didn’t want to deal with signing up for yet another service so I called the restaurant instead. They weren’t open or they weren’t answering the phone, so I went and joined Tock anyway. I just can’t see how Duplex would be able to handle that situation, at least in the near future.


The point that I did not understand was how development startups are apparently going to start using Chromebooks. Firstly they have to setup their Chromebook to dual boot as I think standard Chromebooks can’t have much development tools on them. Secondly maybe javascript development is big in web development but I think most developers will need to used Java for some of the heavy duty stuff and I cannot see a Chromebook running Eclipse, Application Server…


You just take that back!

For brevity I trimmed the part of the asciicast where I deleted the remainder of the “email”.


This is kind of how I feel when I see a new update for the SMS app on my phone. I use SMS to communicate with my landlady and my phone network. Everyone else I talk to is on something like WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook chat, or whatever. Similarly I use the phone call functionality of my phone to call my mother and that’s about it.

Any time I make a phone call to an organisation it’s because it’s something too complicated for their automated stuff. Something Duplex could never handle, essentially.


Hmmm, we’ll see … :wink:


It will all be done …

(yes, that’s a real movie, with Gabriel Byrne and Laura Fraser and everything)


Sounds good! Does it travel well? :joy:

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