The Dark Side of Google Duplex

“We’ve arranged a society on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology, and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power sooner or later is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it.” –  Carl Sagan

Google Duplex is probably the most exciting technology released this year. The Duplex sounds are convincingly natural. They can use the verbal tics, speaks with the cadence of a real person and pauses before they speak. The aim here is to make the conversation between real business people and automatic computers more comfortable.

During the demo, the technology was shown to make appointments, calling salon and restaurants to make reservations. This raised a lot of enthusiasm to many especially at the point where the bots were responding with mm-hmm even drawing appreciative laughs from the tech audience who clearly fell in on the joke. The sounds used there were convincing to the person at the end of the line that they were speaking to another human being.

This was great and even better, it is said to handle even the nuisance conversations as it has been brought together by the natural language understanding, deep learning and texting speech.

However, apart from the excitement of the home crowds, many people are deeply concerned with the ethical implications of the technology. One of the biggest questions that are still not answered is how the person at the end of the line know they are speaking to an AI. It is not clear if the person can distinguish it from a real person.

Many are arguing that it is not necessarily needed to deceive other people in the name of giving a good user experience by sounding natural.  Even though it is not intended to, it is better to make sure it does not. Google should make some mechanism that lets people know that they are talking to an AI. This is because who or what you speak to defines how we interact and if you start blurring the lines there will be mistrust in all kinds of communications.

Another concern is how some people will take advantages of small businesses where you can easily reschedule because there is no connection to the person who picks up the phone to do the arrangement. There is no guilt feeling when something else do the request and changes for you.

The application of the Duplex technology does not sit within the context of a high profile competition nor were there any rules shown to govern the technology beforehand (if there are any google did not publicize them). The technology, however, seems to have unleashed the AI in the unsuspecting business world who are going about with their day jobs making it more unethical.

This might be argued as a selling point whereby the company wanted to show us how the tech was good that you can’t even differentiate it from a human being. It is a good way to do it but it must introduce itself as a robot or just use the appropriate robot voice to be ethical. It should be understood that the technology can also bring good effects even when on a robot voice. As some research shows that many people interact well with AI software that is conversational just as they would to human beings.  

Even though the company’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful” they should also make sure that the deployed phone bots do fall along with the ethical ways. This can be achieved and it might as Yossi Matias, Google vice president of engineering, says that they are still figuring the best way to handle this disclosure. Also, the technology is still under construction and we are hoping that they are working hard to get it right. For the rest of us, we will just hope that they will take the ethical concerns into consideration and work something out that will help both sides.


image source: Getty images

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