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The technology and creep factor behind Google’s AI assistant, which sounds exactly like a human

Google CEO Sundar Pichai talks about the Google Assistant.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai talks about the Google Assistant.
Eric Risberg/AP

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Google unveiled its artificial-intelligence assistant on Tuesday at its annual developer conference.

Duplex is an automated voice assistant that sounds almost exactly like a human. The AI assistant sounds so lifelike that even a human listener cannot detect if it is a machine. Duplex is intended to handle standard phone calls and carry a conversation over the phone for you, like taking appointments or making reservations.

The program is an “experiment,” the company says, only a limited number of users will be able to try it this summer. But the technology raises some ethical concerns.

Do you think it should be required to alert people that they are talking with a machine? Call us at 866-893-5722.

We reached out to Google regarding disclosures and a spokesperson responded with this statement:

We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex -- as we’ve said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product.


Drew Harwell, national technology reporter covering artificial intelligence for the Washington Post, who has been reporting on the story; he tweets @drewharwell

Jonathan May, computer science research assistant professor and research scientist at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI); his specialties include machine learning and natural language processing