Google is constantly teaching the Google Assistant new tricks, and this week, the assistant is learning how to navigate websites and book movie tickets. Soon, after asking your phone-based Google Assistant for movie showtimes, a new “Buy tickets” button will pop up, and tapping it will whisk you through the ticket-buying process—no extra apps required.
Google says the feature works with “more than 70 cinemas and ticketing services, such as Fandango, MovieTickets.com, AMC, or MJR Theaters in the US, or ODEON in the UK.” While all of those services could have coded up special hooks for the Google Assistant, that’s not what’s going on here—instead this feature is powered by a feature Google calls “Duplex on the web.” You might remember “Duplex” as Google’s futuristic phone-call bot that can book restaurants over the phone while sounding like a real human. This “Duplex on the web” doesn’t make phone calls, though, and instead navigates websites for you and completes the movie ticket purchase. Google announced this feature earlier in the year during the Google I/O keynote, where CEO Sundar Pichai defined Duplex as “the approach by which we train AI on simple but familiar tasks to accomplish them and save you time.”
Buying movie tickets on your behalf through a website means Google Duplex navigates to the site, searches for a movie, fills in your personal info and your credit card details, and, after a confirmation step, completes the purchase, mashing all the necessary “next” and “buy” buttons along the way. You can watch it do all this yourself on your phone screen, and if there’s anything that Duplex doesn’t know how to deal with, like making a reservation for a specific seat, it will stop and ask you. We’ve had autofill for some time, and this is like autofill plus auto-navigation.
The technology to automatically navigate webpages is interesting, but this is something that will generally help only casual movie ticket buyers. If you have a theater’s app installed, it probably already saves you most of these clicks and remembers your name, address, credit card, and the other basics. For now, the feature works only on a smartphone, the device where it’s already easiest to buy movie tickets, but this technology makes it possible to buy tickets on something like a Google Home speaker, which normally would require a special voice app.
When Google announced the system at I/O 2019, it also demoed car rentals. Google’s blog post says that feature is “up next.”