I'm a Christian, a designer, and a gadget fan who lives in Cheltenham, UK.

This is my blog, a creative outlet to mess around and play with as well as a place that logs my thoughts and inspirations.

Pondering on Google I/O

I’ve been think­ing a lot about the things that Google announced at I/O this week. I feel like I’m stuck in a weird camp of being both fas­ci­nat­ed and ter­ri­fied all at once.
The rate at which Google Assis­tant is devel­op­ing is astound­ing and the idea that they are work­ing towards the com­put­er from Star Trek is real­ly quite cool. They are clear­ly get­ting there quite quick­ly. The video demos of Duplex mak­ing a call on your behalf to make a hair appoint­ment or book a restau­rant is frankly amaz­ing. If those video’s are true (why didn’t they do a live demo?) then they’ve cre­at­ed a com­put­er that can pass the Tur­ing Test and fool a human into think­ing they are talk­ing to anoth­er human. This is one of the things that ter­ri­fies me.
I’ve long been uncom­fort­able with the amount of infor­ma­tion Google can gath­er on peo­ple. Now they are show­ing how a lot of that data has been used to under­stand how humans com­mu­ni­cate in the way they are build­ing Duplex and demon­strat­ing it’s abil­i­ty to mim­ic that. Like­wise with the new auto­com­plete in Gmail that they demon­strat­ed, these things are impres­sive, as is the poten­tial util­i­ty of them.
My strug­gle is that I hate the idea of all this data being col­lect­ed on peo­ple, most­ly with­out them real­is­ing, but at the same time I find that I want to use the new prod­ucts that Google are cre­at­ing with it all. I hate hav­ing to make phone calls to peo­ple I don’t know and the idea that I could just ask a com­put­er to do it for me is great, but, it scares me. Just because we can do that begs the ques­tion should we be doing it? When humans are speak­ing in this man­ner, there’s an inher­ent lev­el of trust that is built. It’s a ver­bal con­tract between two peo­ple, with a com­mit­ment from both to ful­fil it. If a com­put­er takes over this ele­ment on behalf of one of the par­ties, do we erode that trust? How far do we let these com­mu­ni­ca­tions go? If we are not respon­si­ble for mak­ing appoint­ments and book­ings, do they start to become dis­pos­able? Will we become less inclined to keep them, and how will this impact small busi­ness­es?

7 responses

  1. @philbowell I think the thing with using any sort of dig­i­tal assis­tant to make a reser­va­tion or retrieve infor­ma­tion via phone call is answer­ing the wrong ques­tion. The solu­tion is real­is­ti­cal­ly “how can we help these busi­ness­es put this online so peo­ple don’t need to phone us?”

  2. @webb When it’s clear it’s a bot I have no issue what­so­ev­er. Many com­pa­nies use chat bots as first line sup­port and you talk to “Rita-Bot” for exam­ple. Assum­ing they tell you a com­mand to short­cut you to a human if their bot can’t com­plete your request it’s no prob­lem. I hate it when I end up with a bot mas­querad­ing as a human though — they are usu­al­ly the ones that aren’t pro­grammed as well too.

  3. Yeah I feel very much the same as you in many lev­els. Much of what Google is doing is so cool, and it makes you want to use it. But should we be using it and will using it help Google make more things that we DON’T think are so cool?

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