Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
In creating its new Google assistant, called Duplex, and designing it to be able to make phone calls to schedule appointments, the company made it indistinguishable from a human and successfully hid the fact that it was a robot.
The company was then surprised that many were horrified by this and objected.
The demonstration of the technology at the conference was both impressive and startling. The first example showed Duplex calling a hair salon and scheduling an appointment. The second example involved an even more complex conversation, with the system calling a restaurant to try to make a reservation. In the course of the conversation the system is told it wouldn’t need a reservation for that many people on that particular day. Understanding this, Duplex thanks the person on the other end and hangs up.
These examples of a human-sounding AI interacting with a real person are undeniably impressive, but the technology’s ability to so blatantly fool another human being into thinking it is real has left many unnerved. From suggestions Google had failed at ethical and creative AI design to more explicit accusations that the company was ethically lost, rudderless and outright deceptive, it seems something had gone drastically wrong.
You can watch the demonstration at the link. The robocall technology is quite amazing, and it is also incredibly dishonest and morally bankrupt. Google makes no effort to identify its robot to the listener, and is actually proud that it successfully fools them into thinking they are talking to a human.
The article notes that the company has gotten a lot of negative response to this, and has since said it will always make full disclosure in the future. I have my doubts. I also expect that politicians and survey companies will soon take advantage of this as well. I now routinely hang up on surveys that use robots. To discover that they can fool us makes me want to hang up on all surveys, in all cases.