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People are already forming some very strong opinions about Google's wild new technology that sounds like a real human on the phone (GOOG, GOOGL)

Dave Smith
People are already forming some very strong opinions about Google's wild new technology that sounds like a real human on the phone (GOOG, GOOGL)

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  • The video above shows the first public demonstration Google Duplex, a new experimental feature that lets Google Assistant call businesses on your behalf to get information or make reservations.
  • It was easily the wildest announcement at Google I/O, the company's annual developer conference.
  • People are already forming some very strong opinions about Google Duplex and its various technological and societal implications.


Google Duplex was the talk of Google I/O, the company's annual developer conference that kicked off this week.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled the new product himself on Tuesday: Basically, you can ask Google Assistant to call a business on your behalf, and Google's AI will schedule an appointment for you. Google demoed two phone calls on stage to give people a taste of what to expect.

For the most part, people focused on two aspects of Google Duplex:

  1. How natural it sounded. Google Duplex uses Google's new natural-sounding AI, which adds its own little air-fillers between words in the same way humans do, like "um," and "uh."
  2. The fact the people on the phone didn't seem to know they were talking to computer software. Pichai did mention during the presentation that Google is working hard to "get the user experience and the expectations right for both businesses and users," but people think final product should include some kind of greeting so they're aware they're talking to Google Assistant and not an actual human being.

And so, reactions to Google Duplex have mainly played out in two ways: People are blown away by what Google has created, and how far their AI efforts have come. But people are scared, too, and they're concerned about what this could mean for artificial intelligence and the future of human interaction.

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UNBELIEVABLE!@elonmusk was dead right.
Google Duplex pushes his prophecy to reality. While as incredible as it is, the manifestation of AI+Machine Learning is supremely scary
The intonations, pauses, natural lang processing...it's a robot talking, not human.
DO WATCH GUYS! #io18pic.twitter.com/VBejOiRdna Tweet Embed:
Precisely. The technology behind the Duplex demo was fascinating and Google's AI team is clearly doing outstanding work. But the end result aims more towards increasing isolation and even laziness. I feel like @Google is working hard to get us here: https://t.co/i1Jdz4HpmDhttps://t.co/ZXZs0PDNgJ Tweet Embed:
Google Duplex has split me morally; on one hand the tech enthusiast in me says that’s awesome. On the other hand the cyber security analyst in me says that the misuse of this technology has large potential and for this reason it’s scary af social engineering on another level! Tweet Embed:
I can’t decide if google duplex is awesome, or creepy as heck! I do know that it makes Siri look like a 7th grade dropout that is trying to get her GED.. Tweet Embed:
Impressive, but I’m worried about this kind of tech being used in phishing scams, possibly impersonating people you know - Google’s Duplex Assistant phone call blew my mind! https://t.co/na9j6FWoDh via @YouTube Tweet Embed:
The business model of the Internet is intermediation.

Google Duplex (Google Assistant capable of making calls on your behalf) is branded as an "assistant" but it's in the long run a middleman: something that both consumer and producer will consider a necessary evil. Tweet Embed:
I look forward to using Google's Duplex awesome voice assistant to negotiate my cable bill—and I dread it selling pharmaceuticals to my mom. Also OF COURSE GOOGLE SHOULD PROGRAM IT SO THAT IT TELLS PEOPLE THEY'RE TALKING TO A BOT. @CBSThisMorninghttps://t.co/Wqif2ve00S

Some people believe Google Duplex presents a deeper moral issue. 

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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. Tweet Embed:
Reading about Google's Duplex: Design is a series of choices, and creating voice tech designed to let humans trick other humans is a choice humans are making, not an inevitable consequence of technology's evolution. Tweet Embed:
How Google did that duplex AI voice demo without anyone flagging it internally is beyond me. The first time I heard it yesterday, my stomach clenched when I heard it say "um" like a human. Of COURSE people would find it problematic. Google needs a VP of gut-checks. Tweet Embed:

I just watched the @Google#duplex video. Absolutely amazing. As AI grows, it's not the machines that I'm afraid of, it's the humans that control the machines that frighten me. AI will be used by the super rich to manipulate, deceive, and exploit us. Tweet Embed:
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

For what it's worth, Google insiders told Business Insider that the company will likely tweak the final version of Google Duplex so people feel comfortable using it — and that would likely include communicating that it is, in fact, a machine talking on a person's behalf, but Google could also remove some of the "ahs" and "ums" that make some people feel uncomfortable.

Still, many are excited by the possibilities presented by Google Duplex:

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Re: Google Duplex, it’s worth noting the positive effect it could have on accessibility. As a stutterer, talking on the phone—whether to family, friends, PR folks, whoever—gives me great anxiety. AI-driven calls could greatly alleviate those feelings. https://t.co/yWEyVV3Sld Tweet Embed:
Google Duplex is awesome! https://t.co/VBsoxoYRkJ I think the prediction of Sebastian Thrun about AI is right, AI will help societies become free of repetitive work, allowing them to focus on creative things and do work that requires creativity Tweet Embed:
Google Duplex looks incredible. I’m excited, especially from an accessibility standpoint. As an autistic person being able to have an “assistant” make phone calls for me would be life-changing. I'm ready. 👋 #GoogleDuplex Tweet Embed:
So, my personal not-my-employer's-opinion hot take on Google Duplex: it is basically impossible for me to make phone calls for myself. This is an amazing, incredible accessibility win. I hope it's wildly successful and expansively adopted and accepted. Tweet Embed:
I was thoroughly impressed by @Google Duplex. Some people think that people should be warned they're talking to a computer. I disagree. I think that it either needs to be good enough to pass for human, or not be used at all.

Google Duplex is likely years away from a commercial rollout, and it will almost certainly look different by the time it's released to the public.

Still, regardless whether you think Google Duplex is good or bad, it's incredible to see how far Google's AI has come in the last decade.

Years ago, the main thrust of these personal assistants was simple stuff: getting the weather, or setting a timer without needing to open an app. Soon, though, Google Assistant could be calling businesses on your behalf and setting up appointments. Who knows what the next 10 years will bring: Maybe Google Assistant will be able to do actual work for you, or apply to jobs for you in the background, like the way AI is portrayed in the 2013 movie "Her."

One thing is certain: As technologies get more advanced, our relationships with them will only get more complicated.

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SEE ALSO: Google insiders say the final version of Duplex, the stunning AI bot that sounded so real it fooled humans, may be purposefully made less scary

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