Google has conducted an impressive demo of its latest project the Duplex AI system, during Google I/O.
In the demo, the AI system managed to call a restaurant and salon to set up appointments. The Google Assistant voice took steps to pretend to be human, inserting “umms” and “ahs” into the conversation while a person on the other end appeared to be unaware that they were talking to a programme.
However, questions of ethics of the technology had been raised following the reveal.
While the technology has received praise for its convincing impression of human speech, it has also sparked concern from some observers who believe it might be unethical to fool people on the other end of a phone call.
In response, Google has vowed to warn people who interact with its new human-duping Duplex artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant.
One tech expert, Zeynep Tufekci from the New York Times, said in a Tweet that she found the demonstration “horrifying” and described Silicon Valley as “ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing.”
Google Assistant making calls pretending to be human not only without disclosing that it's a bot, but adding "ummm" and "aaah" to deceive the human on the other end with the room cheering it… horrifying. Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing.
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) May 9, 2018
A Google spokesperson said in a statement that “transparency” is a key part of the technology and: “We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified.”
“What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product,” said the firm.
Ultimately, the company hopes that Duplex will develop into a system that can address gaps in accessibility and communication, for example, letting hearing-impaired users book over the phone, or enabling phone bookings across a language barrier, according to The Guardian.
Google plans to run a small testing programme this summer.
Watch the Duplex demo here: