Google has demonstrated new artificial intelligence systems which can fool humans into thinking that they are talking to another human.
The company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, demonstrated something called Google Duplex at its annual conference, called Google I/O. In the demonstration Pichai used a big screen to show a telephone conversation conducted by Google Duplex, which is an extension of Google Assistant.
Duplex called a hair salon and a human answered. Duplex continued the conversation and managed to arrange an appointment, and then hung up. The human at the other end seemed oblivious to the fact that they were talking to an artificially-intelligent, computer-generated voice.
This sort of situation was anticipated by Alan Turing, who is considered a pioneer of AI and lived through the 1940s, building large, early computers. Computers which can pass for being human are said to have passed the “Turing Test”, which Google Duplex appears to have done.
The humans at the other end of the phone were reportedly somewhat annoyed at being duped into thinking they were talking to other humans, and Google has since said it will make it clear that the call is from a computer. However the fact remains that this is quite impressive technology.
It’s true that we all probably have received calls – sometimes called “robocalls” – from computers at some point in the recent past, and many of us may have spoken to an automated telephone system of a bank or some other similar organisation. So we know how clever – or annoying – they can be.
But what’s particularly impressive about the Google Duplex system is that, judging by the demo, it was able to ad lib and improvise its way through the conversation until it achieved its goal of making an appointment.
The improvisation was minimal, but this is the key to making such systems work because humans obviously do not speak in robotic ways – although monosyllabic communication is a practice that is spreading.
Clarity of voice is also key – and here, the average human could learn a thing or two form the average parrot. Take this parrot, for example, whose name is Petra, according to a report on the Metro website. Petra is able to use Amazon’s voice-controlled smart home device to switch the house lights on and off.
Clearly technological evolution has brought humans to a point where we have to speak like robots and parrots in order to get by – at least for now. But going forward, Google is working on making Duplex more human-like and capable of conducting natural conversations while acknowledging that this is not as easy as it sounds.
On its company blog, Google says: “There are several challenges in conducting natural conversations: natural language is hard to understand, natural behavior is tricky to model, latency expectations require fast processing, and generating natural sounding speech, with the appropriate intonations, is difficult.”