Google’s new AI platform which can make voice calls to real businesses will identify itself when starting a conversation, the tech giant has confirmed.
Google Duplex was unveiled earlier this week as a new way for its Google Assistant to help out users by being able to phone businesses to make appointments on their behalf.
The in-development AI uses advanced natural language tools to sound more human – including dropping “umms” and “ahhs” into speech – but its first demonstration split opinion, with some alarmed that AI would pretend to be a human.
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
Google has now clarified that the technology around Duplex is still very much in development, and it will identify itself if and when it comes into contact with humans.
“We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex — as we’ve said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important,” a Google spokesman said.
“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.”
"One of the biggest areas we're tackling with AI is the #GoogleAssistant...Our vision for the perfect assistant is that it would be natural and comfortable to talk to, and there at the right moment in the right way when you need it." –@sundarpichai #io18— Google (@Google) May 8, 2018
Google boss Sundar Pichai introduced the technology on-stage at the firm’s I/O developer conference by playing a recording of Duplex phoning a hair salon and confirming an appointment for a user.
He also explained that Duplex is a tool designed to save users time by co-ordinating parts of a schedule for them. The feature kicks in when users ask the Assistant to make a reservation and provide a date and time.
The Assistant will then try and make the appointment using a business’ online booking service, but if there isn’t one this is where the Duplex-powered phone calls come in. These take place in the background, with users sent a notification once the appointment has been confirmed.
Google said part of the hope for Duplex was that it could be used to help small businesses who do not have an online booking system and may be missing out on customers as a result.
In a blog post further explaining the company’s thinking behind Duplex, Google’s vice president for engineering, Scott Huffman, said task management was also a focus.
“The Google Assistant helps you save time by taking tasks off your plate, whether that’s ordering a coffee or buying movie tickets online. But sometimes you need to pick up the phone and call a business to get something done,” he said.
“This summer, we’ll start testing a new capability within the Google Assistant to help you make restaurant reservations, schedule hair salon appointments, and get holiday hours.
“Just provide the date and time, and your Assistant will call the business to co-ordinate for you. If a business uses an online booking service, the Assistant will book through that. And if not, the Assistant will call the business on your behalf.
“Even though the calls will sound very natural, the Assistant will be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. Once your reservation or appointment is booked, the Assistant will add a calendar reminder for your appointment and allow you to cancel if needed.”
With technology companies facing heightened scrutiny following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and now a mixed reaction to technology it’s working on, Google appears to be taking extra steps to be transparent about its thinking around new products.