‘No, of Course No.’

Jack Morse at Mashable, following up on DF reader Jay P’s deduction of the actual restaurant where Google claims two of its employees enjoyed a meal booked via Google Duplex:

And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.

That’s why I called Hongs Gourmet.

When I did, a woman answered the phone. After explaining I was a reporter with Mashable and that I was curious about Google employees eating there after using an AI to make a reservation, she told me she’d put me on the phone with Victor.

Victor got on the phone, and I explained the Google blog post and photo and asked him if the AI had made the reservation there. He replied in the affirmative.

I also asked him if Google had let him know about the planned Duplex test in advance, and he replied, “no, of course no.”

When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called Hongs Gourmet, he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone.

Regarding Google, this raises some questions. How many real-world businesses has Google Duplex been calling and not identifying itself as an AI, leaving people to think they’re actually speaking to another human? I’m not entirely sure that’s ethically wrong, but I lean toward yes, it is wrong, especially while the product is at an experimental stage. I’m not alone. And if “Victor” is correct that Hong’s Gourmet had no advance knowledge of the call, Google may have violated California law by recording the call.

Regarding Jack Morse and Mashable, what an embarrassing pile of taking credit where credit is not due and not even understanding what exactly it’s even about this whole article is.1

  1. Mashable’s headline reads, “We Think We Got to the Bottom of the Google Duplex Mystery”, and the first 16 paragraphs make it sound as though Morse — and presumably, some of his Mashable colleagues, given the “we” in the headline — identified Hong’s Gourmet as the unnamed restaurant in the photo Google published. Only in the 17th paragraph does Morse get around to admitting he picked the whole thing up from the thread I started on Twitter. He wasn’t even involved in the Twitter thread. (He identifies me only as “longtime Apple fan John Gruber”. I’ll call my accountant tomorrow and amend my tax return with that job title.)

    And he was in such a rush to publish his “scoop” that he got significant parts of it totally wrong:

    Still, questions remained. Axios rightly wondered if Google was holding anything back. Specifically, the publication wanted to know if the entire thing was partially staged — as in the restaurant knew about the call ahead of time.

    We called what we’re pretty sure is the restaurant in question and got an answer.

    That would be Hongs Gourmet in Saratoga, California, located an approximately 20 minute drive south from the Google campus (according to Google Maps).

    Putting aside crediting Axios’s Dan Primack as the first to question the validity of Google’s recorded Duplex demos, Hong’s Gourmet (they seemingly spell it both with and without the apostrophe) has nothing to do with any recording Google played on stage at I/O. Google played two recordings of purported actual Duplex calls at I/O: a woman’s appointment for a haircut, and an attempted restaurant reservation that resulted in no reservation at all because the woman at the restaurant said they wouldn’t need one for the specified day and time — they could just walk in.

    Hong’s Gourmet is only of interest because of the caption of the photo at the bottom of the Google AI Blog announcement of Duplex: “Yaniv Leviathan, Google Duplex lead, and Matan Kalman, engineering manager on the project, enjoying a meal booked through a call from Duplex.” Google has a recording of the phone call Duplex purportedly made to book this meal, and it was not played on stage at I/O, nor did Axios reporter Dan Primack mention it.

    Regarding what clinched the deal that Hong’s was indeed the restaurant, Morse writes:

    And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.

    That would be more than some kind of coincidence. It would be one hell of a coincidence. But Morse didn’t even mention the genuinely clinching evidence: Jay P’s discovery that a neighboring restaurant’s sign was legibly reflected in the glass of the picture frame over their heads.

    I have no problem with Morse (or anyone else) putting a story out regarding the Twitter thread I started. The whole point of doing it on Twitter is that it’s in public. And Morse did take it further, by calling Hong’s and getting that “No, of course no” quote from an employee on the record. But don’t try to take credit for others’ work and think you’re going to get away with it. It’s a bad look. ↩︎

Thursday, 17 May 2018