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?