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Opinion: Google’s virtual assistant can now make phone calls on your behalf

Opinion: Google’s virtual assistant can now make phone calls on your behalf

  • Global
  • Technology, Media and Telecoms

29-05-2018

During its annual “I/O” festival earlier this month, Google demonstrated the new capabilities of its “Assistant” – the ability to make phone calls on users’ behalf. In the demonstration, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, played a couple of short clips of the latest iteration of the Assistant, first calling a hair salon and then a restaurant, in order to create appointments at both establishments respectively.

What was stunning to the audience was not simply the Assistant’s ability to make the call and update a user’s database (calendar) in response to the complex (albeit inadvertent) voice commands of the recipient, but also the ways in which it was able to disguise the instances where it was unable to compute certain sentences, providing an apparently successful illusion that it was a human caller.

Whilst the service to efficiency is obvious, Mr Pichai did not discuss the potential impact that widespread use of these types of technology might have on society. For instance, human receptionists may well become used to talking to robots, which they know will not be impacted by a lack of courtesy. It is easy to imagine that such complacency could quickly extend, such that humans seeking to make appointments may endure less-than-pleasant experiences. On a broader scale, the ability of a hacker to cause widespread mischief, for example by making hundreds of fake bookings at once, could put Bart Simpson to shame in minutes. Whilst these potential issues may appear relatively trivial, the more insidious danger lies with the enhanced versions of similar technology, where the machines initiating the calls are capable of exhibiting general intelligence. Such machines may be able to able to manipulate humans to act in ways in which they otherwise wouldn’t, or illicit confidential information, all without a hint to the victim that the person on the other end was not a personal at all.

The Guardian reported a clip of the demonstration at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/may/08/google-duplex-assistant-phone-calls-robot-human

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