Google kills ‘Duplex on the Web,’ an automatic site navigation feature

enlarge / Once you press the “Buy Tickets” button, Google Assistant takes over.


Google is shutting down a rather obscure project: Google Duplex on the Web. “Duplex” is Google’s brand of AI that can complete “simple but familiar tasks, thus saving you time.” The brand exists on two products: this “web” feature and Google’s human-mimicking voice AI, which, as far as we know, is still functioning. This version of Duplex — Duplex on the Web — is a feature of the Google Assistant that automates browsing websites and performing actions on your behalf, such as purchasing items and checking in for flights. The feature may not be very popular, and TechCrunch spotted an update to the support page saying that Duplex on the Web will expire at the end of this month.

Duplex on the Web launched in late 2019 and was announced at Google I/O earlier that year. The normal checkout process for a project involves a lot of navigating and pasting saved data. If it’s a reservation, you need to find the item, possibly the time slot you want, enter your billing information, and mix the “next steps” together, and Duplex on the Web should be able to do it all automatically. While it might be faster and more reliable if the company just made a speech API, Duplex on the Web is a hack. The assistant pops up its own web browser and individually clicks through the checkout screen while you watch. Google’s automated mouse clicker could theoretically scale well, since it can provide speech support for a website without any work from the website owner.

However, it is now dead. Google’s support page says: “Duplex on the Web is deprecated and will no longer be supported starting later this month. After this date, any automation enabled by Duplex on the Web will no longer be supported.” Google Telling TechCrunch, “By the end of the year, we’ll be shutting down Duplex on the web and fully focusing on making the AI ​​advance to the point where Duplex voice technology helps people the most every day.”

We’d take a wild guess and say that the reason for the demise of Duplex on the Web is lack of usage. One of the (many) problems with voice assistants is that they’re basically command-line interfaces.There’s no UI or buttons to let people know what’s available, so users just need to Know What command is worth saying. Most of us can probably guess that “what’s the weather like tomorrow?” is a valuable command, but probably few know that the Google Assistant can automatically navigate websites to buy movie tickets or check in on your behalf. At least the command line interface has a “help” command that displays a large number of commands. Since there isn’t a complete list of Google Assistant’s acceptable commands, it’s not clear how anyone should know about these features.

It’s unclear if this feature actually solves a problem other than the eternal problem of discoverability. Buying something on the Internet or checking in for a flight isn’t difficult because companies have tried to make these things as easy as possible.

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