On Machines Sounding Human

Did you happen to see Google's on-stage demo of Google Assistant making a phone call the other day?

Others I've spoken to thought it was the coolest thing ever. I'm not so sure, I was a little unnerved by it to be honest. Was kinda creepy.

Bridget Carey wrote something a little stronger

I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeek and other quirks of language. "Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?"

If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can't tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it's right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot.

In this age of disinformation, where people don't know what's fake news… how do you know what to believe if you can't even trust your ears with now Google Assistant calling businesses and posing as a human? That means any dialogue can be spoofed by a machine and you can't tell.

This might be the future we're heading towards. But I don't really like it. I realize I just became my own Grandad we didn't need computers in my day. But this just doesn't feel right to me. And I'm a software developer and do this for a living.

But then I'm a closet Luddite and still turn on my house lights with a switch. Like some animal.

6 responses to “On Machines Sounding Human”

  1. jake says:

    Maybe it's me but it seems these are all solutions in search of problems. The use cases are "can't be bothered to…". I can't be bothered to look at my phone and need a smart watch. I can't be bothered to switch on my lights so I need to speak to a cylinder. I can't be bothered to make a phone call so cylinder please do it for me.

  2. Adam Bowie says:

    I see that Google is now saying that it will identify itself as a robot when making such calls: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/may/11/google-duplex-ai-identify-itself-as-robot-during-calls

    While I'm not saying that I *wouldn't* use such a service, I know that I'd be worried that instead of booking a table for 2 at 7.30pm, Google hadn't somehow booked a table for 30 at 7.00pm or something…

  3. kapgar says:

    Again, goes along with part of the reason why I got rid of my WiFi plugs… like the first commenter said… solutions in search of a problem. I thought that some of this stuff would be cool to try but I think I’m done until a very compelling reason comes out to revisit it.

    • kevin says:

      Heh. Maybe invoke the "just because you could, doesn't mean you should" rule? I dunno, maybe I don't have the same lifestyle as silicon valley tech dudes, but all this cool speech tech just because you "don't have time" to make a 1 min phone call? Really? Really?