New Google Duplex details keep sneaking out

Chris Davies - May 18, 2018, 4:54 pm CDT
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New Google Duplex details keep sneaking out

Google’s Duplex, the controversial AI that promises to make appointments on behalf of the phone-averse, will make its artificial identity clear first, according to leaked details of a demo given to employees this week. Part of Google’s splashy I/O 2018 opening keynote last week, Duplex first wowed and then worried many with its human-impersonating talents.

The goal, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained on-stage at the annual developer event, was to create an artificial intelligence that could step in at times when it wasn’t practical or preferable to make calls yourself. While the Google Assistant can already find local businesses and even dial the number for you, Duplex took one big step further. It’s capable of speaking with the person at that business, making appointments on behalf of the user.

During the demo, Pichai played recordings of Duplex talking to staff at a hair salon and at a restaurant. The conversation was impressively lifelike, so much so that it prompted a wave of unease shortly afterwards. For a start, critics pointed out, there was no sign in Google’s recordings that those staff at the salon or the restaurant knew they were talking to an AI rather than a real person.

That prompted speculation that Google had either misled them or edited the recordings. Adding to the controversy, Google has consistently declined to comment on the specifics of its Duplex demo. Two days after it showed off the technology, it conceded that Duplex would indeed be “appropriately identified” when it made calls.

Now, Bloomberg reports, the system has been demonstrated internally at the company. Showing off Duplex at a TGIF staff meeting on Thursday of this week, insiders say, execs apparently insisted that disclosure of the bot’s AI status was already being discussed well in advance of the I/O demo, in addition to ethical implications of using such an assistant.

Duplex would identify itself to those answering the phone at businesses as the Google Assistant, the executives explained. In areas where notification must be given before a call can be recorded, Duplex will also inform people of that, too.

Google still continues to avoid questions about which businesses, exactly, it used for its demo. Bloomberg’s sources suggest that the recordings were, indeed, edited before they were played at the I/O keynote, though it’s unclear what exactly was taken out. At the very least, anything that indicates the name of the business is likely to have been removed. Since the companies were believed to be local to Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters, and since California makes notifying callers that they’re being recorded mandatory, presumably that disclosure was edited out, too.

However, courtesy of a photo of two of the Duplex engineers eating at a restaurant booked using the AI, some local knowledge served up the details. The location itself is Hong’s Gourmet, in Saratoga, CA, Daring Fireball reports, identified thanks to the nature of the meal and the distinctive interior decor.

Nobody working there has commented on just what their level of involvement of the Duplex demo was, yet. Still, as the arguments over just how ethical services like Duplex are continue to rage, it’s something we’re unlikely to see disappear any time soon. Indeed, Google has said it plans to roll out testing of Duplex technology within the Google Assistant this summer.


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