The brand new Google Assistant feature that lets you make appointments and reservations via voice calls without actually making the call yourself, Google Duplex, was met with mixed reactions.
Demoed at I/O 2018 earlier this week, Duplex is a fantastic piece of technology if it works just as Google wants. The Assistant sounds more human than ever, which is an excellent feature for the service, as long as Assistant only interacts with you and your family. But not telling people talking to your Assistant that a robot is producing “uhmms” and “aaahs” just to sound more human is incredibly creepy.
What’s also mind-bending is that Google came out with the feature seemingly not expecting any privacy-related backlash. Google, like Facebook, had its fair share of scandals thanks to various shady practices. With that in mind, being upfront with humans that they’re talking with a robot should have been a top priority for Google during the I/O event. Sure, the demos were supposed to be convincing to show the world how voice technology advanced. But Google should have had a clear stance on how it’ll inform the only person in those types of calls that a robot is making reservations.
Google did mention on its blog that it’s looking to inform businesses that robots will be calling them, stopping short at explaining how that would happen.
In a statement to The Verge Google confirmed that it’ll inform people involved in Duplex calls that a robot is talking to you:
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.
It’s unclear when Duplex will launch, and it’ll be available only to a limited number of users at the beginning. By then, Google will probably explain precisely how Duplex will identify itself to people.