Hold for Me

by Leah Nicholson


Google’s smartphones have come up with an alternative to hold music: the new artificial intelligence service called Hold for Me. 

The purpose of the service? Hold for Me will act as a temporary secretary when a user is on hold, allowing them to continue with various tasks while the application remains on the line without missing the call. The service listens and notifies the user when the call is picked up by a representative, asking the call center to wait until the user comes to the phone. 

According to Google’s Joseph Cherukara and Andrew Goodman, the service is powered by Google’s Duplex technology, thus allowing it to recognize distinctions between hold music, recorded messages, and actual person waiting on the other end of the line. As is often the case with AI technology, however, Hold for Me has also spurred suspicion from various users. Some have accused the voice of the service of being so realistic, using filler words such as “hmm” and “er,” that the program borders on being deceitful. Google responded to the criticism by altering the software to identify itself as artificial. 

Google’s Duplex first launched back in 2018; back then, Duplex dealt primarily with AI technology that let users make reservations and appointments automatically, with the AI itself making the phone call. In this way, it mirrors Hold for Me‘s role as a “secretary.” Duplex also served to fill in gaps in Google’s data regarding businesses; since the technology would ask about opening hours and other information for the user, Google would then take that information and store it in their Maps product. This is particularly helpful when it comes to businesses that don’t have online websites. 

Again, this data collection and use of AI technology remains a topic of debate. Many wonder that if Duplex—and Hold for Me—collect data over the businesses and call centers, will they also collect data over the users as well? Privacy is always a question when it comes to AI. While Hold for Me and Duplex technology from Google certainly free up time for productivity, they also increase reliance on automated calls. Overall, they spark a mixed reaction from the public. 

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