So, what is Google Duplex?
Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated the new AI system at Google I/O 2018. He presented two demos to the audience, one where a female voice called a hair salon to schedule a hair appointment; and the second where a male voice booked a reservation in a restaurant.
What amazed the audience is unlike the speech patterns of voice assistants, such as Siri, that are robotic, smooth, and continuously flowing, the AI seems so much like a human, saying “Um,” “Mhm,” “Oh,” and “I gotcha;” and taking a pause much like a person would.
Of course, with the buzz that it garnered, there are some people voiced out their concerns. For example, Bridget Carey, a Cnet tech journalist tweeted:
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
— Bridget Carey (@BridgetCarey) May 8, 2018
A member of Twitter’s product team, Sriram Krishnan also shared Carey’s sentiment:
I'm blown away by the AI in the Google Duplex demo. Also a little queasy on what this means for humans interacting with computers but knowing they are – and the social norms around that.
For example, should AI identify itself as so first? Is not doing so…impolite?
— Sriram Krishnan (@sriramk) May 9, 2018
Google engineers Yanjy Leviathan and Yossi Matias explained: “It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that. We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”
But you don’t have to decide yet if this is good or bad. Here are some pros and cons of Google Duplex:
Makes life easier
You won’t have to deal with the menial task of booking a restaurant reservation or hair appointment.
Just activate Google Assistant and it’ll do it for you!
This way, you can focus more on important tasks that need your attention more.
Help accessibility and language barriers
Since the virtual assistant is voice-activated, people with disability like impaired hearing, and immigrants or tourists having trouble speaking the local language, can use their phones to talk to someone on the phone to book a reservation.
Benefits traditional businesses
Businesses that haven’t had a digital transformation and have no online booking system can still be accessed by Google Assistant through a call.
It could also make local online data more accurate. For example, stores have different operation hour during holidays, and with Duplex, you can call a local store and ask its business hours for Christmas.
No control over the call
Google Duplex is still under testing but from what has been shown in I/O, you can’t interfere with a call.
You have no way of knowing if the call is going off the rails. You only get to listen to what happened to the call after it’s been done.
The “What if” of Duplex advancement
John Havens, Executive Director of IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems see a potential for Duplex to expand its limits.
“Pretty soon it’s not going to be hard for someone to type in the words to have a virtual assistant break up with their boyfriend,” he said. “Or, ‘call my elderly mom this weekend.’ I’m being a little hyperbolic, but we’re actually here.”
Easier to abuse small businesses?
Natt Garun of The Verge it’s just as easy to ask the AI to constantly reschedule or miss your appointment since you don’t feel an urgency to actually make your appointment because there’s no connection.
Seeing the pros and cons, what are your thoughts about it? Share it in the comments below!
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