The revelation of Google Duplex, which can mimic natural human speech, has sparked an ethical debate(Credit: Google) A few days ago, at Google’s annual I/O developer conference, the search giant revealed a new AI system called Duplex. The system interacts with Google Assistant and can essentially engage in simple conversational tasks via phone calls to businesses, such as scheduling a hair salon appointment, or making a reservation at a restaurant.

Not everyone was happy with the groundbreaking presentation, though, and a subsequent outcry over the ethical implications of an AI voice basically tricking humans into thinking it was human has prompted Google to now suggest the product will be programmed to disclose its computer identity in all future uses. The big hallmark of Google Duplex is the system’s ability to conduct natural sounding conversations.

The system is programmed to have a quick response time and incorporate what Google refers to as “speech disfluencies” to sound more natural. This includes subtly calibrated “hmm”s and “uh”s to sound like a real person, and not the rigid mechanical computer voices we are generally used to.

The demonstration of the technology at the conference was both impressive and startling. The first example showed Duplex calling a hair salon and scheduling an appointment (about at 1 minute into the video above).

The second example involved an even more complex conversation, with the system calling a restaurant to try to make a reservation. In the course of the conversation the system is told it wouldn’t need a reservation for that many people on that particular day. Read more from…

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