What happens when the robots sound too much like humans?

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

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.

If we can trust Duplex to make our hairdresser appointments, can we also trust it to make an emergency call? And for the small businesses which do not have enough customers so that the Digital Assistant can help them make appointments with the customers. This week, for the first time, we have had to grapple with the actual reality of this development. "We'll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months".

Unlike Siri, Alexa and other AI assistants, the system speaks like a convincing human. Moreover, a lot of people think that it is an ethical breach by the caller if the other person does not know that he/she is talking to a software or a Digital Assistant.

The second call was to a restaurant, and demonstrated how capable Google was at adjusting to unexpected situations in the phone call.

As is so often the case with new technologies, there are fears over the impact Duplex might have on human jobs. It (she?) even adds "um" and pauses to sound even more natural. The post goes on to read that "we want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context".

But should this leap in technology concern us?

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As a technology, Duplex brings together advancements in speech recognition, deep learning, and text-to-speech technology to create something that is futuristic, and extremely forward-looking. And that is where the problem lies.

"We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex - as we've said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important", they said in a statement via CNET.

"That's very impressive, but it can clearly lead to more sinister uses of this type of technology", said Matthew Fenech, who researches the policy implications of AI for the London-based organization Future Advocacy. The software, however is intelligent enough to recognize if the conversation is going in a direction which it's not equipped to deal with and will transfer the call to a human in that instance.

The Washington Post asked "what the heck are we getting ourselves into", noting the effects it could have on low-wage workers, and the ability the technology has to hoax people. It could catch them at their most vulnerable and confidently smooth talk its way into digging out information that you may otherwise not disclose to a call centre operative.

"There are going to be some rigid boundaries as to what Duplex can do, and if you're interested in tricking the system and determining if it's a human on the line or not, you could certainly do that", he said.

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