Google Assistant Can Now Make Perfectly Human-Sounding Phone Calls with Google Duplex and It's the Worst Thing Ever
Of all the weird and wonderful announcements Google made this year at their annual developer conference, none have generated as much controversy as the new Google Duplex: an add-on to Google Assistant that just might break the Turing test.
For those of you who just had to Google "Turing test," Alan Turing developed a process in the early 1950s to distinguish between a machine and a human. To oversimplify what the test is, it uses a conversation to judge responses from a machine against how closely they resemble answers that a human would give. As AI progresses, machines are becoming better at passing those tests, and a Google Duplex demonstration at the tech festival has some worried that the scary future is already here.
During the demonstration, Google Assistant was made to call actual human beings on behalf of a "client" to book an appointment with a hair stylist and to make a reservation at a restaurant. The people on the other end had no clue they were talking to a robot – and after listening to the exchange, we're not sure we would have known, either. Initial reactions to the demonstration are mixed but, regardless of their personal opinions, everyone seems to be in awe of the Assistant's ability to maintain a real conversation while focusing on its directive. The inflection in its voice and the injection of pauses and "umms" are insanely real. But are they too real?
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Another big discussion right now is whether or not it's ethical to make AI simulate human conversation to interact with unsuspecting humans. In an interview with CNET, Google said that it is working on ways to have the AI identify itself – but in the demo shown at the event, it never did. "If Google wanted to be transparent," writes CNET's Bridget Carey, "why go through the extra steps of hiding the robot interface?" Carey adds that she is "disturbed by what this technology means and why we even needed to take artificial intelligence this far."
And she's not the only one who is concerned.
Tech reviewer and YouTuber Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) posted a video discussing Google Duplex and why it's "both amazing and kind of terrifying." Brownlee says that he is "mostly on the side of this particular feature being particularly helpful," but adds that if he were working in service like those humans on the other end of Google's calls, he would want to know if he were talking to a program and not a person. On the other hand, he acknowledges that if Google Assistant revealed itself to be Google Assistant on the phone, that would change or even end the conversation.
Check out MKBHD's video below and let us know where you stand on the ethics of this undeniably impressive demo.