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Linked by Jason Snell

On the phone, nobody knows you’re a robot

The Verge’s Natt Garun has some thoughts about Google Duplex, a service previewed yesterday that uses Google’s voice-assistant technology to talk to real people in order to book services on your behalf:

The demo was stunning, both because of how human this next-level chatbot sounded and how dystopian the world would be with our robot imposters flooding the phone lines. But as I walked out of the conference yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the person on the other end of the line. When did human service workers become Google’s to experiment on?

There’s an awful lot to process about Google Duplex. It’s a remarkable tech demo, though I retain a great deal of skepticism about how well it would actually work in practice. But after the first squees of delight at how surprisingly well the software interfaced with the real human being on the other end of the line, a disquiet settled in.

Does Google think it’s ethical for computers to pretend to be people? Is it right that service workers are now expected to navigate the strange behavior of computer software posing as a human being as a part of their job? Is it appropriate for Google to use any means possible to bash its way into the one small portion of the world’s economy that has not yet been taken over by an IP-connected API endpoint? Are minimum-wage restaurant workers the new edge in Edge Computing? Is the inability to book haircut appointments via a web form worth the attention of Google’s technical prowess?

It was a great demo that showed off just how brilliant Google is at technology… and how bad it is at not being creepy.

(There’s another good piece at The Verge by James Vincent about this issue.)