Okay Google, I'm Officially Freaked Out Now

Is Duplex the beginning of the end for humanity?

Posted May 16, 2018

Remember the first time a computer (Deep Blue) beat the world's best chess player (Garry Kasparov) back in 1997?

Or how about when IBM's Watson badly beat Jeopardy's best champions in 2011?

Well, this week another tally has been added to the robot column. With the newest addition to Google Assistant, dubbed "Duplex," Google aced the never-before-passed Turing Test. It's a pretty cool piece of technology...and it's also kinda terrifying.

During the demonstration, Google Assistant made a phone call and booked an appointment at a hair salon. It has become the call heard 'round the world because it sounded exactly like a conversation between two humans (only more articulate.) The robot even threw in a few "ums" and "ahs" as it responded perfectly to the human's questions and social nuances.

What's so scary about that? It sounds amazing.

First of all, if you think you get a lot of calls from telemarketers now, get ready for a whole lot more. This technology is scalable to infinity and robots don't sleep.

If you work in a call center, you can pretty much kiss your job goodbye. Why bother going through the time and expense of training employees when you could just re-program them instead? Just add "conversation" to the list of things robots do better than humans.

Is any job safe? It's only a matter of time before robots are selling cars, leading organizations, or creating art. How far away are we from robots being able to replace you entirely? How can you compete with something that improves on all of your strengths and eliminates all of your weaknesses? Just ask David Levy, the author of Love and Sex with Robots. He believes that by the year 2050, your spouse will even prefer a robot partner to you. (After the robot rights movement legalizes human-robot marriages, of course.)

And Duplex kind of blows open Pandora's Box for the world of cyber-crime, doesn't it? Criminals will be able to make anybody's voice call anyone and say anything. Combine that with this technology and we'll never be able to trust our own eyes or ears again. Just imagine Brad Pitt calling your Aunt Edna and asking for a personal favor. He could get her to do anything.

Or maybe the criminals could someday use a super-intelligent robot to impersonate your voice and communication style perfectly. "Hey babe, I'm stuck and I need you to make a bank transfer for me."

Has technology gone too far? If so, can the genie ever be put back into the bottle?

Worst of all, in my opinion, is the blow suffered to human connection. It's yet another person-to-person interaction that has been removed and replaced with a screen or an app. If we keep doing this, our human-to-human skills will atrophy even more than they already have. Technology continues to bring far people close and close people far. The quantity of connectivity goes up, but the quality of connection comes down.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Duplex is helpful if you're at work and can't book your own appointments during normal business hours; but it's harmful if people start using this technology to make ALL of their phone calls. What if we get so bad at interacting that we choose not to even bother? "Okay Google, call Lorraine and tell her she's fired." "Okay Google, call my husband and tell him I want a divorce." "Okay Google, call Jim and give him my condolences on the loss of his mother." What if we lose the one thing that makes life worth living?

What if it's already happening?

What do you think? Will this kind of technology just be an annoyance, polluting the phone lines? Or will it become a threat to job security, personal security, or even National Security? Pop your comments below - then go have a real conversation with a real person about it. 

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