AI Knocks on the Door: When is real too real?

The really big news at the Google I/O developer conference was the latest news on the Google Duplex – the new, proposed assistant device – and how it’s going to impact our lives in the next few years.

Google claim that Duplex will push the boundaries of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to levels that would perplex even Alan Turing and will leave many users wondering if there actually a real person talking back to them, such is the level of sophistication. While little is known about the background workings of the system, it is being hailed as far more than just an upgrade to the current Assistant and the company has said that it represents a whole new chapter in AI communications.

It is true that Duplex will still work through your mobile devices and will have much the same functionality as the current Alexa but with a far greater ability to act in an intelligent way.  While keeping much close to their chests, Google have confirmed a number of things about the new software.  For instance, it will have six new voices that you can choose from, it will have the ability to handle multiple enquiries at the same time and will accept follow on questions without having to use the wake-up word.  

But the most impressive feature is destined to be the true AI functions that will make the virtual assistant akin to a real person and will be able to handle your requests and take the mantle in actually seeing it through. This, say Google, will be just like a human doing it for you.

However, some believe that a test of Duplex was deemed unethical when it tricked an employee of a hair dressing salon – or did it?   The test, apparently carried out on a small business close to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, saw the virtual assistant book a hair dressing appointment with a human employee without the woman realising that she was actually chatting with a computer. The seamless exchange was designed to show the effectiveness of the AI, but actually left many wondering if it had been stages using a real human instead of an AI computer.  Critics point to a lack of ambient noise in the exchange and the fact that the company employee didn’t state the company name at the beginning of the call, nor identified themselves.  Google, however, maintain that the exchange is genuine.

It is known that Google have been working on AI for several years, and Duplex is the fruit of their labours, but just how good it actually is, will not be fully known until it actually gets some use in real world situations.  Our guess is that if you can slurringly get it to order a kebab for you following a drunken night at the pub, then it will be pretty good.

Taken from the June 2018 issue of Geek Parenting, out now!

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