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Snippet: It Doesn’t Look Like Anything to Me ☇

Shared on May 9, 2018

Alex Cranz for Gizmodo:

Google could soon have a feature that lets your phone impersonate people—because consumer-facing artificial intelligence isn’t terrifying enough. Called Duplex, it’s intended to make people’s lives easier by handling standard phone calls that are necessary, but not especially personal.

In examples Google demonstrated on stage during the I/O keynote, Google Assistant called a hair stylist to arrange an appointment and called a restaurant to get information about a reservation, using a voice that sounds a little less robotic than the standard Google Assistant (whether that voice is the user’s or a standard Google Duplex voice has not been made clear). And sure that’s ostensibly kind of neat. Intellectually speaking, I am very impressed with this technology! A voice that can contact human beings and impersonate them reasonably well, including using filler words like “um,” is a remarkable feat of AI engineering.

I also find the technology behind this quite impressive, but it also does give me a bit of an unsettled feeling. I understand the filler words are intended to give a more human feel, but it seems to be too much in the uncanny valley. More importantly, if it works as advertised, it’s that good that many people may not know it’s not human. Furthermore, we talk about technology addiction or communications suffering—what does having our phones make phone calls do for that dynamic? What if companies implement this technology and phase out call centers? While it might be better, you could also end up in a situation where the AI is just like the infuriating automated phone menus that take you in loops.

This isn’t sour grapes because Siri is lacking—if Siri could do this, I’d be equally creeped out. I think that there’s a lot of tech writers and pundits that think smart assistants are the next big thing, when many people may use them a bit more casually. I could be wrong, but right now, examples like this feel too wrong for me. On the other hand, there are excellent use cases in the realm of accessibility.

Snippets are posts that share a linked item with a bit of commentary.