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Google Duplex: inspiring or terrifying?

We often blame technology and social media for the growing social isolation in our modern societies. Chatting and texting have crept bit by bit into our lives, sometimes at the expense of real life interactions. Forbes recently published an article reporting growing uneasiness among millennials regarding face-to-face interactions. A few days ago, at the Google I/O 2018 conference, Google unveiled its new version of Google Assistant within the framework of the Google Duplex project, a major initiative in the field of artificial intelligence.

What link can be made between social isolation and Google Assistant? Watch this short video to get you started.

The first time I watched this video, I was flabbergasted. First, by the surreal quality of the machine-human interaction – we are a long way from the soulless, robotic voices we have been used to up to this day – and second, by the sheer number of possibilities provided by the evolution of this impressive technology. However, my astonishment quickly turned to concern.

Indeed, Google’s demonstration is somewhat disconcerting, and raises many questions. For starters, it raises ethical issues. For example, should Google Assistant identify itself as a “robot” when contacting a third party? In time, will the application be able to imitate different voices and accents? Then there are the unavoidable questions about security. For example, chances are that many ill-intentioned hackers and fraudsters will keep a close eye on the development of this powerful new weapon to add to their malicious equipment. They will certainly be closely followed by telemarketers and political parties who will also see this innovation as a very useful tool to communicate with their target audiences. Finally, how will this innovation impact a population that is becoming more and more isolated, and already growing accustomed to hiding behind technology at the expense of IRL (In Real Life) interactions? Will we entrust difficult conversations to Google Assistant? Will we ask it to regularly call our parents to reassure them? Will a day come when we say: “Hey Google, call Sophie and tell her that me and her are finished!”

What about you? What’s your take? Is this technology inspiring, or on the contrary, quite terrifying?