Google Assistant Sounds Like a Human on the Phone

James Vincent, writing for The Verge:

It came as a total surprise: the most impressive demonstration at Google’s I/O conference yesterday was a phone call to book a haircut. Of course, this was a phone call with a difference. It wasn’t made by a human, but by the Google Assistant, which did an uncannily good job of asking the right questions, pausing in the right places, and even throwing in the odd “mmhmm” for realism.

The crowd was shocked, but the most impressive thing was that the person on the receiving end of the call didn’t seem to suspect they were talking to an AI. It’s a huge technological achievement for Google, but it also opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical and social challenges.

For example, does Google have an obligation to tell people they’re talking to a machine? Does technology that mimics humans erode our trust in what we see and hear?

It’s uncanny how realistic this sounds, but I genuinely wonder if it’s disingenuous to program an AI that hems and haws like a human. There’s a genuine humanity to this voice, but is that dishonest?

Wednesday, 9 May 2018