Looking back ten years from now, we’ll probably say: “it all started with a hair salon reservation.” In fact, what seemed a simple conversation, in reality, opened up a Pandora box, for better or worse. Yet beside socio-cultural evaluations, this will have an enormous impact on businesses, online and offline.

In many other articles about Google Duplex, several perspectives have been taken into account. In this article instead, I want to give you a different angle on why, from the business standpoint, it makes sense for Google to move in that direction. In fact, when companies like Google, which most important asset is its users’ data, make a move, I believe it is essential to understand why.

The Turing Test is a thing of the past

When in the 1950s Alan Turing was thinking about machine intelligence he started with a what seemed a simple question: “Can machines think?” However, this questions carries many hidden philosophical problems. Not the least, how would you define thinking? That is why Alan Turing turned the question upside down. Rather than thinking or define thinking. Alan Turing decided to look at the problem from another perspective: “Can machines do what we (as thinking entities) can do?”

Listening to this conversation, would you even guess that this is a conversation between a human and a machine? I didn’t, and I bet you neither. But how did we get here and what implications does this have for the future?

The digital divide of small localized businesses vs. large tech conglomerates

When Google is working on practical applications for its Google assistants, deciding where to focus their effort is critical. In fact, if we look at the data related to small businesses digitalization, you realize how they are slow at adapting to the modern technological landscape.

In other words, although things like AI and machine learning resonate in the marketing world and it is the primary concern of tech giants like Google, Facebook or Amazon. In reality, small business owners not only are unconcerned about those topics. But they are still in the process of understanding why they need digitalization at all for their businesses. For instance, if you think about a small restaurant or a hair salon, which are businesses taken as an example of Google’s Duplex experiment. You realize that is easier for Google to get offline, rather than those small businesses join the online world.

As those local activities mainly rely on word of mouth and traditional media, it would be tough for Google to reach those businesses (although Google has already moved in that direction with Google my business). What to do then?

If a small business doesn’t go online, Google goes offline

We give Google for granted. Yet It’s hard to keep in mind that Google, as a digital business, monetizes thanks to the data of people that are always online. What about people offline? Google Duplex might be a way to close the digital divide and leverage on people always connected to start gathering data about businesses that are offline:

Source: ai.googleblog.com

In other words, Google Duplex becomes the middleman that allows Google’s Assistants to collect critical data about offline businesses for voice search.

While technologies pass, data stay, and Google Duplex can be the growth engine toward voice search

AI, machine learning and the plentiful of new technological applications that are springing up thanks to those are at the center of today’s debate. However, although technologies play a crucial role what truly matters is data. In fact, on the one hand, new machine learning models allow the processing of large amounts of data. Thus, if in the past the data gathered couldn’t be of much use by companies or governments as we didn’t have the computing power and intelligence to process that. Now, this is possible.

On the other hand, we have to keep in mind that data is what matters. When Google and Facebook offer free services to users, they are not volunteering; they are building up a business. As voice search is expected to become a $40 billion market (in US alone) by 2022; Google Duplex can really become the growth engine that allows Google to gather the most important data through voice to take over the market.

“Hey Google,” this is a country for old men!

If you think about it, this might the most ingenious business strategy. While in the last two decades Google used the data of users to build up a business that as of 2017 made over $95 billion from advertising there was still a disconnect. In fact, while the gathering of data from Google depended and it still does from the level of digitalization of its users; in the future, it will not.

If you think about digital assistants, like Google Home, those are consumer products ready to be in any home, independently from the use of a computer. In fact, in a few months over six million home speakers were sold.

You might expect though that voice search will disrupt – after all – the usage of computers. Isn’t – in a way – voice search the natural evolution of traditional search? In reality, if we look at the statistics, voice search will not just take over some market share related to traditional search, but it will take over old media:

Voice Search Demographics

Source: techcrunch.com

In short, people asked about what media were Smart Speakers replacing; the answers were staggering. In the top seven media replaced by Smart Speakers, four of them (Radio, TV, Printed Press and Sonos) are traditional media.

Why is this important at all? For a few reasons – I argue. First, Voice Search might disrupt once and forever old media. In fact, while the web is still on a race against traditional media (it was just in 2017 that digital ad spending surpassed TV ad spending), Voice Search has the potential to disrupt it as it will have many potential practical applications for worldwide households.

Second, the web created a greater divide between generations. This might not be the case for Voice Search. Smart Speakers can be activated with something humans have been using forever: spoken language.

Third, as the Mark Zuckerberg Senate Testimony showed, those tech giants business models aren’t easy to understand. We saw the scenes of struggling adult men and women trying to make sense of Facebook. In a way, many on the web read this, as a lack of intelligence from those politicians. In reality, it seems clear to me that companies like Facebook and Google, thanks to their asymmetric business models, make it hard for people to understand how they operate. As Voice Search will make it hard for Google to monetize on ads (imagine the only answer given by the Smart Speaker was an ad, would you trust it?) would they be willing to experiment with alternative, symmetric business models?

Key takeaways

In this article, we saw how Google Duplex might be opening new business scenarios for Google. However, we also saw how Google Duplex would help the tech giant from Mountain View to target a few things at once. The critical aspects are:

  • Close the digital divide between tech giants and small offline businesses
  • Start collecting critical data by using connected users to collect data from offline small businesses
  • Although AI and machine learning are critical technologies that allow Google to become more sophisticated; the real asset is data
  • While the web is still competing with traditional media, Voice Search isn’t only taking market share from the web, but mostly from media like TV, Radio and Printed
  • While computers are still hard to understand for older or less tech-savvy people. Voice search is pretty much a technology that can be used by anyone
  • As Voice Search will make it harder for Google to monetize with ads alone, would this be an opportunity to experiment with more symmetrical business models?

Those are open questions. It is clear though that the power of Voice Search is its ability to unite digital to non-digital, millennials to baby-boomers, tech-savvy to non-tech savvy. From the business standpoint, it will be all about Voice Search domination!

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