Duplex, Google’s eerily human-sounding Assistant feature that’s capable of making phone calls to local business for users, seems a little too impressive to actually exist at any point in the near future.
While Duplex could end up being the latest example of in a long line of I/O-related vapourware, it’s undeniably impressive. Following a backlash focused on the ethics of AIs pretending to be humans, Google has started to stress the transparency features built directly into the technology powering Duplex.
“We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified,” said a Google spokesperson in an emailed statement to various publications. “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.”
It’s still unclear how Google intends to handle this disclosure, but it would likely need to take place before the call starts. Otherwise, if Duplex actually works how Google demoed the technology at I/O, the person on the other end won’t know whether they’re talking to a robot.
In Google’s Duplex demo, the AI assistant made a real call to book an appointment at a hair salon, with the entire conversation sounding extremely lifelike. A second call was also made that went a little off the rails, with Duplex keeping its cool and continuing to carry on the conversation in a way that made sense.
Duplex sounded extremely natural during the demo and even threw in filler words like “hmm” and “umm,” making the conversation seem that much more real.
This has lead to a discussion surrounding the ethics of an AI powered robot essentially making a phone call for you. Google CEO Sundar Pichai welcomed the discussion surrounding Duplex’s ethics in a recent blog post.
“It’s clear that technology can be a positive force and improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. But it’s equally clear that we can’t just be wide-eyed about what we create,” he wrote in a blog post.
“There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of technology and the role it will play in our lives. We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately—and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right.”