Google Assures AI Assistant Duplex Will Identify Itself as a Bot, but People Think It's Still a Bad Idea

A picture of the Made by Google store in Manhattan |

The first demonstrations of the Google Duplex, the tech titan's artificial intelligence in the works, were met with some major concerns.

Although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, Google Duplex was extremely lifelike during the demonstrations at the I/O conference where it made salon restaurant bookings, enough for users to worry about being misled.

The AI assistant's voice was so natural, throwing in pauses, "ums, ahs and mm-hmms" that made it seem like it was a real person. It also did not have a hard time navigating a conversation that does not go as expected. Throughout the whole thing, it did not identify itself as a machine.

Social media theorist Zeynep Tufekci was one of the first people to express apprehension towards the technology.

"Google Assistant making calls pretending to be human not only without disclosing that it's a bot, but adding 'ummm' and 'aaah' to deceive the human on the other end with the room cheering it... horrifying," she tweeted. "Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing," she went on to say.

Google was quick to extinguish the people's growing fears, saying that they are in no way planning any sort of deception with the AI assistant.

They addressed the trepidations in a blog post shared before the demonstrations. There, the company noted that they are taking "transparency" into account in providing a good experience for users.

"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," they wrote.

In a new statement to The Verge, the company goes on record saying that Duplex will inform the people on the other end the conversation that they are interacting with a machine.

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

"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," the representative added.

This is not enough to change Tufekci's mind though. After sharing her opinion about the Google Duplex, she was met with criticism and was branded "anti-tech."

There are those reminding her that it might be too early to judge since it is just a demo, but she retorted by saying that they aren't "getting the full scale of problems," which she enumerated in her previous tweets.

She added that Google putting a bot identifier at the beginning of call "doesn't solve the many problems" and does not change the fact that the Google Duplex is still a bad idea.

Google envisions Duplex as one that will help businesses relying heavily on phone connections to find new and more efficient ways to interact and attend to the needs of customers.

For example, users can speak with the AI to schedule a reservation, ask about opening hours and whatnot when the business is closed where no employee is available. The tech is also expected to prove useful to hearing-impaired users.

The company said it would begin testing Google Duplex more widely this summer.

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