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Google: The duplicity of Duplex

Friday, 11 May, 2018

On Tuesday, Google announced an Artificial Intelligence product called Duplex, which is capable of having human-sounding conversations. “We hope that these technology advances will ultimately contribute to a meaningful improvement in people’s experience in day-to-day interactions with computers,” wrote Yaniv Leviathan, Principal Engineer, and Yossi Matias, Vice President, Engineering, Google. But that’s not good enough. They did not address the moral and ethical implications of Duplex. And these are enormous. For example: What will happen to the meaning of “trust” when the synthetic voice of synthetic intelligence is made to sound human? But before we go any further, let’s listen to Duplex phoning two different businesses to make appointments.

We’re racing towards a future where machines will be able to do anything humans can do. Duplex is an important signpost on the road but people should be thinking seriously about where we’re going. During Google I/O, which ended yesterday, tech journalist Bridget Carey posed some of the questions more of us should be asking:

I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeek and other quirks of language. “Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?” #io18

If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can’t tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it’s right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot. #io18

In this age of disinformation, where people don’t know what’s fake news… how do you know what to believe if you can’t even trust your ears with now Google Assistant calling businesses and posing as a human? That means any dialogue can be spoofed by a machine and you can’t tell.

Speak now or forever hold your peace.


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