For some reason Google, Amazon, Apple and the rest of the Silicon Valley gang seem to think we, the consumers, would like their products to be as close to humans as possible. News flash: most of us aren’t cool with robots being indistinguishable from homo sapiens. It makes us uncomfortable and puts us dangerously close to a world exactly like Blade Runner (seriously, we have some questions for Ridley Scott). Google just announced their latest update to the digital assistant and it sounds exactly like a human being. This can’t end well.
At the company’s annual Google I/O Conference this week, CEO Sundar Pichai introduced the “Google Duplex” – an updated Google assistant that can now make calls for you instead of just dialing a number when you ask it to. Sounds weirdly impersonal for the person on the other end of the line. How are you supposed to react when you receive a call from Siri? Google Duplex isn’t Siri though. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even notice the Google assistant wasn’t a real human assistant. Pichai had Google make a call to book a hair appointment to demonstrate.
— CNN (@CNN) May 9, 2018
Isn’t that terrifying?! Not only did the assistant’s voice sound natural and human-like, it only introduced itself as calling “for a client” not, “Hello, this is a ROBOT.” It also threw in little “ums” and “ahs” to seem like a thinking being. Will the next generation exhale in exasperation when the person on the other end puts it on hold?
Obviously, people were creeped out and had a myriad of concerns. Top of the list was the questionable ethics behind having machines make phone calls without disclosing that they aren’t human. Technology like this also makes it easier to data-mine in real life. Sundar said, during his presentation, that the company would use Google Duplex to make calls to local businesses to update online information like hours of operation. Just think of the implications of that technology.
AI needs to be stopped.
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) May 9, 2018
Thats a big NO for me.
— Phillip Jabulani Maswanise (@Phidze72) May 9, 2018
This is what we have come to. A robot to make a hair appointment, and tell our kids bedtime stories, and play our music and on and on. No thanks, I enjoy my human to human interactions.
— Johninpa (@JWH100) May 9, 2018
The inflection in the computer voice is nuts.
This is so creepy.
— Isa-Lee Wolf (@IsaLeeWolf) May 10, 2018
Awesome idea but how does it work if u are the person on the other end at the salon? Do u have to deal with a machine? Automated? Make sure it’s very easy for them otherwise u make the callers life easy and the service persons life harder. Not fair trade off.
— Nick Hanson (@djprotege20) May 9, 2018
If by “incredible” you mean “horrifically frightening”, then yea…
— Marty Walser (@martywalser) May 10, 2018
It’s just a matter of time before the same types of technology are used to impersonate, catfish and do any number of other sinister things. Remember that Jordan Peele/Barack Obama video from last month where Peele made the point that we can’t possibly comprehend the ways technology can fabricate false realities? Google may tell us that the new assistant is going to save us from making all those phone calls we hate (Ugh, millennials and their texting! Just pick up a phone!) but we should all be concerned about this kind of tech. It may not be as peachy and well-intentioned as Silicon Valley would like us to believe.
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
Now, here, please read this Twitter thread by comedian and Silicon Valley actor Kumail Nanjiani about how technology has no morality and we as the humans creating and operating it need to be responsible for making it as ethical as possible. As the wise Jeff Goldblum once said in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
As a cast member on a show about tech, our job entails visiting tech companies/conferences etc. We meet ppl eager to show off new tech.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) November 1, 2017