Whether you're a fan of Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri or the Google Assistant, it's hard to ignore the rise of the AI voice helper. And they're even more hard to ignore when they start pitch-perfectly mimicking human interaction.
That's exactly what Google was showing off at its annual Google I/O conference this week, where it revealed Google Duplex. It's set to be a feature of Google Assistant in the future, where you'll be able to ask the helper to make a booking with places like salons and restaurants, and let the AI bot make a call in the background, using natural language speech patterns to interact with the human on the other end.
However, the demo shown was almost too good, with the Assistant inserting "umms" and "errs" with such ease that the recipient of the calls had no idea they were talking to an automated service.
This of course brings with it moral questions – is it fair to let someone believe they're talking to a living human? And could the system be left open to abuse, with pranksters setting the Assistant about their dirty work without fear of reprisal?
These are questions it seems Google has already considered. In a statement sent to CNET it stated that "transparency" was a key tenet of its plan for Google Duplex:
"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."
The AI apocalypse may be drawing closer then – but at least they'll give you fair warning when they come knocking.
- Google I/O 2018: Everything you need to know