Andy Crouch - Code, Technology & Obfuscation ...

Google Duplex


Photo: Unsplash

Google unveiled Duplex today, an AI-based system for conducting natural conversations. Showcased at their annual IO conference, the demo caused quite a divided opinion.

Here is a sample of it booking a hair appointment.

It as caused quite an outpouring of opinion especially from people that believe it to be too creepy. They seem fine with synthetic Google Assist style voices but not a realistic human voice. They do not like the added imperfections and phrasing that humans produce when in conversation. A lot of the articles that are against the technology argue that as it would be hard to distinguish the voice from a human

This seems to be at odds with the excitement every time Boston Robotics release another video. Their Atlas robot is now doing backflips. Something distinctly human and unimaginable even a few years ago.

I guess people warm to the robots as they can see that it is a robot. They are not attempting to make the robot look human and so we do not feel threatened. But, what is not lost on me is how few people realise how advanced things have got. Boston Robotics released a video showing their dog like robot calling a friend to open a door. A lot of people laugh along without realising they are watching advanced AI in action. What would happen if that went bad?

This is actually the point that I think differentiates the Boston Robotic robots from Duplex. People can see the robots and perceive no threat. Duplex calling you up has no visual element. They are dealing with the unknown.

Still, it must surely be the aim of some to create the most human-like robot with the AI and voice of a human. This is the direction that technology has been pushing for the last few decades. What happens then? How would the human race react to indistinguishable robots? Are the likes of Elon Musk and Sam Altman right to warn of the consequences?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject so please share them with me via twitter or email.