Would You Let Google’s AI Make Phone Calls for You?

May 14, 2018 - 3 minutes read

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As tech companies integrate new developments in artificial intelligence (AI) into their products and voice assistants, public backlash is to be expected. Often, these large companies don’t consult with “regular consumers” before proceeding to build out nearly the whole product.

This can result in missteps during the release that could have easily been avoided if approached from the perspective of an actual user. One such new product is Google’s Duplex.

Is AI Too Human Already?

The Duplex is an AI assistant that can make calls for you. It was the big reveal of this year’s Google’s I/O developer conference held in Mountain View, right outside of San Francisco. It uses DeepMind’s new WaveNet audio-generation technique, amongst other technologies, to create a very realistic, human-sounding voice. The company went as far as to add “umm” and “uhh” into the flow of speech like a normal human would during a conversation.

The technology gives a new meaning to “robocalls”; without regulation, AI can and will evolve rapidly to become something out of a dystopian scifi movie. In a blog post written by two Google engineers working on the Duplex, Yaniv Leviathan and Yossi Matias emphasize, “It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that. We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context.”

The Duplex isn’t ready to be released just yet, and after the conference, Google may have a few other aspects to iron out. The demo has caused the general public to feel more uncomfortable than impressed. Mainstream consumers were disturbed that the Duplex didn’t identify itself as a robot before proceeding to have a conversation with a human. This type of deception and trickery definitely needs to be kept in check.

Treading the Uncanny Valley

After the public outcry, Google released a statement that clarified that they “understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex—as we’ve said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product.”

The company hopes to use Duplex to lower language barriers, promote time away from our devices, and safeguard against spam calls. But to do that, Google will have to strike the right balance between human and machine with their new innovation.

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