Google has revealed a “terrifying” new technology that you could use without ever knowing it. When a robot rings your phone, you can usually tell right away. Its voice is melodic, it rarely stumbles, and it is unnaturally efficient. The voice betrays its origin before it even has the chance to tell you that you qualify for a free loan, your mortgage payment is overdue, or that your input would really be valuable for a customer survey. Knowing it’s a robot also makes it easy to hang up.
The unveiling of Google’s new Artificial Intelligence technology, Duplex, on Tuesday showed some jaw dropping capabilities of Google Assistant. The minds behind Google Duplex are in the process of changing that paradigm, for better or worse, with the AI assistant being able to call people and interact with them as well as book appointments on the background.
With a live demonstration at the Google I/O 2018 Conference at Shoreline Amphitheater, Google CEO Sundar Pichai showed how the bot could call people up and book a hairdressers’ appointment. It went through the entire process of booking it – referring to the human as its “client” – without the person on the other end of the call ever realising that they were talking to a robot.
“Duplex is able to understand complex sentences, fast speech and long remarks and so naturally converse and make an appointment, before sending the user a notification to confirm the booking” says Google
The company also demonstrated how it was developing tools that could construct whole bots out of people’s voices. It showed John Legend recording just a few choice phrases, for instance – which were then synthesised using artificial intelligence into a voice that could be made to say anything, and still sound like the singer.
It said it had already generated six new voices this way. That could mean that the Google voice that calls you using Duplex could have any voice – making it hard to recognise when it is not a real person.
The rest of the conference saw Google reveal a whole host of other AI-powered features. They include Smart Compose, which allows computers to put together messages on their owners behalf, by learning how they write and what they discuss; and new Photos tools that can automatically improve photos and then suggest who to send them to.