Google I/O 2018 has brought a lot of new developments to the forefront, but none of them have had as much impact as the company’s announcement of Google Duplex. The advanced AI technology will allow the Google Assistant to make extremely realistic-sounding calls to people.
This revelation has opened the doors to a whole range of questions about the ethics of this technology and potential misuse. It’s easy to see how someone might take advantage of human-sounding AI to make prank calls or trick someone into believing they’re talking to an actual person in order to spread false stories.
Google will have to deal with these questions head-on if it wants to make Google Duplex a success. For now, it’s limiting the AI’s scope to scheduling appointments at hair salons, making restaurant reservations, and finding out holiday hours over the phone. There’s actually a reason for this, as it can only carry out natural conversations after being deeply trained in a specific domain.
As for how natural these talks are, anyone can hear them over at this link. Google claims these are real conversations between businesses and the Google Assistant. A user would simply have to ask the virtual helper to book a reservation for them at a specific time and date. It would do this in the background, saving them the trouble of having to place a call themselves.
The calls Google highlighted went off without a hitch, with the human at the other end of the line not realizing they were speaking to a robot. Of course, it’s possible that the company didn’t post unsuccessful phone calls on purpose so we think the initiative works flawlessly every time.
This might not be the case when Google starts testing Google Duplex inside the Google Assistant this summer. Let’s not forget the brand’s real-time translating Pixel Buds disaster from last year. The earbuds worked perfectly well in the stage demo, but failed to replicate this in real life.
If something does go wrong, the AI is supposed to signal to a human operator and have them complete the task. This might assuage some concerns, but not all. Still, if it means we won’t have to sit through endless automated customer service calls one day, the experiment might be worth it.