Google Duplex likes noodles. And, apparently, not telling servers that it’s an artificial intelligence.
Or anyway that’s what we learned when we spoke with the staff of the restaurant that is almost certainly the one the AI recently called for a dinner reservation.
For the uninitiated, Google dropped jaws earlier this month at its annual I/O developer conference with a demonstration of Duplex, an artificial intelligence that can apparently — in some situations — make entire phone calls on your behalf. While the example provided to the gathered crowd involved a haircut appointment, the company posted another recording to its blog that dealt with a dinner reservation.
And along with the audio recording came a photo (the full photo is embedded below) of two engineers on the project, Yaniv Leviathan and Matan Kalman, enjoying the very booth that Duplex allegedly reserved for them.
“Yaniv Leviathan, Google Duplex lead, and Matan Kalman, engineering manager on the project, enjoying a meal booked through a call from Duplex,” the photo caption reads.
Still, questions remained. Axios rightly wondered if Google was holding anything back. Specifically, the publication wanted to know if the entire thing was partially staged — as in the restaurant knew about the call ahead of time.
We called what we’re pretty sure is the restaurant in question and got an answer.
That would be Hongs Gourmet in Saratoga, California, located an approximately 20 minute drive south from the Google campus (according to Google Maps).
How can we be so sure that Hongs is in fact the spot in question? Well, this photo from the restaurant’s Yelp page does a lot of the work.
Notice the booth, color of the walls, and even border of the framed painting. It’s a close match to the photo Google posted on its blog. Leviathan and Kalman likely sat at the table behind the woman and child pictured above.
And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.
That’s why I called Hongs Gourmet.
When I did, a woman answered the phone. After explaining I was a reporter with Mashable and that I was curious about Google employees eating there after using an AI to make a reservation, she told me she’d put me on the phone with Victor.
Victor got on the phone, and I explained the Google blog post and photo and asked him if the AI had made the reservation there. He replied in the affirmative.
I also asked him if Google had let him know about the planned Duplex test in advance, and he replied, “no, of course no.”
When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called Hongs Gourmet, he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone.
This photo hunt was kicked off originally by longtime Apple fan John Gruber, who tweeted out the Google pic and asked if his followers knew the spot in question. One replied with a link to Hongs’s Yelp page, and a quick scan through the photos revealed the pic of the woman above.
But wait, there’s more. Another online sleuth suggested that Google flipped the photo, perhaps to make it harder to identify.
We reached out to Google for confirmation that Leviathan and Kalman are indeed shown eating at Hongs Gourmet, and hopefully to determine if the company had given the restaurant a heads up about the test, but have received no response as of press time.
Anyway, we have now reached what we’re pretty sure is the bottom of this particular mystery. Yum.