The most talked-about product from Google’s developer conference earlier this week — Duplex — has drawn concerns from many. At the conference Google previewed Duplex, an experimental service that lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails. In a demonstration on stage, the Google Assistant spoke with a hair salon receptionist, mimicking the “ums” and “hmms” pauses of human speech. In another demo, it chatted with a restaurant employee to book a table. But outside Google’s circles, people are worried; and Google appears to be aware of the concerns. From a report: “Horrifying,” Zeynep Tufekci, a professor and frequent tech company critic, wrote on Twitter about Duplex. “Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing.” As in previous years, the company unveiled a feature before it was ready. Google is still debating how to unleash it, and how human to make the technology, several employees said during the conference. That debate touches on a far bigger dilemma for Google: As the company races to build uncanny, human-like intelligence, it is wary of any missteps that cause people to lose trust in using its services.
Scott Huffman, an executive on Google’s Assistant team, said the response to Duplex was mixed. Some people were blown away by the technical demos, while others were concerned about the implications. Huffman said he understands the concerns. Although he doesn’t endorse one proposed solution to the creepy factor: Giving it an obviously robotic voice when it calls. “People will probably hang up,” he said.
[…] Another Google employee working on the assistant seemed to disagree. “We don’t want to pretend to be a human,” designer Ryan Germick said when discussing the digital assistant at a developer session earlier on Wednesday. Germick did agree, however, that Google’s aim was to make the assistant human enough to keep users engaged. The unspoken goal: Keep users asking questions and sharing information with the company — which can use that to collect more data to improve its answers and services.
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