Google’s much-hyped reservation-setting AI, Duplex, is a one-trick pony with nowhere near the conversational versatility we’ll see in the artificial general intelligence (AGI) of the future. But the natural language interface it employs is provocative because it suggests the way we might interact with the AGIs of the future.

Earlier this week Google invited journalists to field calls from the AI, which tried to say the right words and phrases to set a restaurant reservation (the demos were held at local restaurants in New York and the Bay Area) and to sound natural and human in the process.

The knowledge baked into Duplex consists mainly of terms and times necessary for making a reservation. That narrow data set is not what has people talking; it’s the natural language interface that Duplex uses to communicate with humans. It injects human-sounding “uhs” and “ums” into its speech. It uses dialect: The voices in the demos sound like SoCal surfer dudes and chicks.

Within a narrow context it does feel like engaging in a real conversation, as our Katharine Schwab reported after fielding a call from Duplex at a Thai restaurant in New York. “With its SoCal intonation, pauses, and “ums” peppered throughout the conversation, it sounded uncannily human,” Schwab wrote. “By the end of the conversation, I’d almost forgotten that I was speaking with a powerful piece of machine learning software.”

For now, the public discussion around Duplex may be more important than the technology that Google developed. We may now be having the first of many public conversations about the practical ways in…