Google has a new AI robot assistant

Why Are People So Scared Of Google’s New Robot Assistant?

How would you feel if you worked in a hair salon and you took a phone call from a robot who wanted to book an appointment for their “client”? You’d probably be a little surprised, to say the least.

But what if that robot sounded exactly like a human and you actually thought you were talking to a human? How would you feel then? Unnerved? Angry? A little bit embarrassed?

In this blog from Blue Whale Media, the Warrington web design agency, we’re asking these questions because the above scenario actually happened at Google’s I/O conference in May 2018.

What Occurred At The I/O Conference?

New Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology called Duplex was unveiled at the annual event.

As part of a pre-recorded demonstration, Duplex phoned a hair salon and successfully booked an appointment. That may not be too surprising, given developments in voice search, for instance. But what was remarkable was how realistic the Duplex voice sounded. And it was clear that the hair salon assistant thought she was talking to a human.

How Does Duplex Sound So Real?

The tone of the synthetic voice is now indistinguishable from a real voice. But that’s just one element. Another major innovation is that Duplex is able to respond to questions or statements in a believable way. What’s more, it uses “linguistic filters” – such as “ums” and “ahhs” – in its language. During the demo, for instance, the robot said, “hmm…” as it contemplated the date it had been offered for the appointment.

Ethical Questions

At our Warrington web design agency, we’re impressed by such innovations, but we also understand the ethical issues brought up by Duplex. So, how should you respond? Should you feel unsettled by the idea of not knowing who – or what – you’re talking to when you answer the phone? Should governments legislate against Google Assistants effectively impersonating humans?

And what does this advancement in AI mean for the future of nuisance phone calls? Is it only a matter of time before a human-sounding robot calls you regarding the miss-selling of PPI? Of course, we just don’t know at the moment, but there are clearly many issues to confront in the near future. In fact, technology mogul Elon Musk addressed US governors last year and stressed the need to start regulating AI “before it’s too late”.

How Has Google Responded Since The Conference?

Following the debate caused by the demo, Google has released a statement that says: “We 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.”

So, once this technology becomes prevalent, it will introduce itself when it calls us. But will we quickly forget that Duplex is a machine once we get chatting? We’ll have to wait and see.

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