Earlier this week at the Google I/O developer festival, the company debuted Duplex, its eerily accurate human voice system that impersonates a bumbling intern making calls on your behalf. According to Google, Duplex is able to schedule appointments and book restaurant reservations by making actual phone calls for you. What Google didn’t say was whether the human on the other end would know it was talking to a bot.
Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)
But now the company says it’s working on a feature to solve that problem, according to CNET.
During its pre-recorded demonstration of Duplex, Google didn’t say if the experimental service, powered by Google’s WaveNet natural speech generator, would identify itself as a robot when it makes your phone calls. This, naturally, prompted concerns about the deceptive practices taken to achieve a more seamless conversational experience. Wanting a robot to handle your calls is one thing, but convincing the person on the other end they’re talking to a human is somewhat disconcerting.
Google said the bot would be “appropriately identified” but hasn’t specified what that means, exactly.
“It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that,” Google said on Tuesday in a blog post about Duplex. “We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”
We reached out to Google for clarification on the matter but had not heard back at time of writing.
An updated Google Assistant with Duplex support will be rolled out to certain users over winter.
Judging by the demo, Duplex seems pretty damn good at replicating the natural speech patterns of humans, down to the “um” and “ah” filler words found in nearly every phone call. And since it’s a part of Google Assistant, that gives your ersatz secretary the power to add appointments it books to your calendar, and potentially update publicly available data such as store hours based on previously made Duplex calls from other users.
Still, the privacy implications are potentially startling, especially when Google already handles most of your data.