Google unveils human-sounding AI Assistant ‘Duplex’, raises ethical concerns

Responding to the ethical concerns around using a human-sounding digital assistant, Google has said that it will come with a disclosure built-in.
Google unveils human-sounding AI Assistant ‘Duplex’, raises ethical concerns
Google unveils human-sounding AI Assistant ‘Duplex’, raises ethical concerns
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During its I/O developers conference this year, Google revealed its voice-based digital assistant using artificial intelligence ‘Duplex’ that has the capability to speak in as close to a human voice as possible, male or female. Google CEO Sundar Pichai himself demonstrated it during the conference where he played out two audio clips to the audience, where a gentleman Daniel and a lady Lisa are making appointments, first for a table reservation at a restaurant and the other with a hair stylist.

All through, the voice assistant not only appears to be giving out appropriate responses and deals with complex situation, there is no way the person at the other end is going to realize that the voice at the other end making the reservation or seeking an appointment is not that of a human. It is far superior to the stiff robotic voice one has come to associate with such cases including the voice that is presently heard in Google’s home speakers.

This did raise a lot ethical questions among certain sections of the society and Google has now responded with the assurance that it will incorporate such a disclosure, going ahead. It has reiterated its commitment to keeping technology transparent. The demo audio was possibly only meant to showcase the technology and is still work in progress.

"We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex -- as we've said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. 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," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement.

Observers feel this new development from Google can be said to have passed what is called a Turing test. Turing, a British computer scientist had said in 1950 that when the computer can produce natural responses like humans, then they would be said to have passed a test.

There are still questions around this process of making a machine speak to humans without identifying itself and Google stands by its word to make the disclosure element part of the deal before it is commercially released. The only question in the minds of technology experts is how this disclosure can be implemented.

It has to be added here that at the current level of development of this technology, Duplex can only handle simple tasks like making reservations and appointments. For more complicated voice calls on behalf of humans, more training and machine learning will have to be imparted Google Assistant.

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