One year later, restaurants are still confused by Google Duplex

Myriah Q. hasn’t stopped moving since the moment I entered the bar. She’s got patrons seated on the sidewalk and the backyard areas, and she is pacing between opposite ends of the venue to keep up with the happy hour rush. Occasionally, she hops behind the counter to mix drinks, restart the music playlist, or organize menus. Suddenly, the phone rings — for the third time. Myriah looks at the caller ID, ignores the call, and resumes her dance.

“I don’t have time for spam calls,” she explains. “I’m busy enough as is.”

But the call wasn’t exactly spam. Twenty minutes earlier, I’d asked the bartender at Sweet Afton, an Irish pub in Astoria, New York, if she’d ever heard of Google Duplex, an AI that calls restaurants on a person’s behalf and uses realistic human speech to make reservations. When Myriah told me she hadn’t, I asked if she’d be interested in trying it out, and she agreed. Still, when the calls came, she opted not to pick up.

“I purposely ignored those calls because it said ‘Google,’” she says, not realizing that the calls would appear to come directly from the company. “I’m moving so quickly when I’m working that if it doesn’t say a person’s name, I don’t pick up.”

When the fourth call rang — as my Google Assistant frantically tells me it’s still trying to reach Sweet Afton — Myriah finally picks up. This time, she listens intently without ever responding to the AI. “That was weird,” she says as she hangs up. “I’m a little freaked out.”

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