Google's Polarizing AI Caller Will Identify Itself To Humans

Google's polarizing artificial intelligence calling service is being created with "disclosure built-in" so that the people it's contacting are never under the impression that they're talking to an actual human being, the company said in a statement. The tech giant unveiled the solution — called Duplex — at the latest iteration of its annual Google I/O developer conference earlier this week, having described it as an extension of Google Assistant. In practice, the service should allow users to command their digital companions to make phone appointments with various businesses such as restaurants and hairdressers on their behalf.

The initial demo shown on I/O 2018 stage had Google Assistant talking to a hair salon receptionist and pretending to be human by making pauses and producing natural-sounding speech patterns including ticks such as "mhm," "um," and "ah." Technology critics are now targeting Google for what they deem is an unethical service meant to mislead, with the company claiming it always intended to commercialize it with full transparency and that this week's demo was just meant to showcase its capabilities and not be illustrative of how the ultimate experience of interacting with Duplex will sound like. It's still unclear how Duplex-enabled Google Assistant would be able to circumvent the wide variety of laws and regulations targeting robocalls which used to be more widespread in the U.S. until certain states such as California, Indiana, and Missouri performed a concentrated crackdown on such practices at the turn of the century. While Google's solution is much more advanced and not capable of being used for political purposes, it could still be classified as a robocalling service.

There's no word on when Duplex may be commercialized but Google doesn't appear to be rethinking its efforts to launch it due to the public outcry it generated. Consumer-facing AI is still in its infancy, with today's services such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant remaining relatively limited in terms of their capabilities that mostly come down to answering simple questions and controlling compatible home electronics, though advancements in the field have been rapid and numerous in recent years.

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