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Is that a robot I’m talking to?

Bridging the gap between humans and artificial intelligence Source: Pixabay

It’s happening: AI bots that make phone calls on your behalf, and sound totally human in the process. The remarkable technology behind the latest Google Assistant feature is Google Duplex – a fully automated system designed to book appointments for you in a natural-sounding voice instead of a robotic one. While it is still under development it can already react intelligently when a conversation doesn’t go as expected. Plus, it’s not the only one!

Microsoft also has an AI bot that makes phone calls to humans – it is similar to what Google has done, but for now it’s testing only in China. Their friendly bot’s name is Xiaoice and it has already convinced some Chinese users that it’s human. Naturally, these technologies have courted controversy as well, with questions being raised around the use of voices that sound so realistic and convincing, as well as the autonomy of artificial intelligence.

How autonomous are the bots?

While sophisticated conversations can be carried out by the Google Duplex system, the technology is directed at completing certain tasks, such as the scheduling of appointments. The majority of this is performed without any human involvement – in other words, totally autonomously. Recently, Google put on an impressive onstage demonstration at its I/O Developer Festival, in which the Duplex system made a hair salon appointment via phone, followed by a restaurant booking – in this particular case it had to overcome a slight language barrier to complete the task. That said, the system is also able to recognise if a task is too complicated to finish, in which case it will signal for a human operator to take over.

While Google Duplex is still in the development phase, Microsoft’s Xiaoice is already a bit of a celeb in China. It has over 500 million ‘friends’ and over 16 channels by which users can interact with it through messaging services. It even has its own TV show and writes poetry. While most of its communication with users has been through texts, it has recently been allowed to phone people and chat. Xiaoice is different to Google Duplex in that it hasn’t been designed to book appointments, but rather to hold a friendly, albeit basic conversation – it can be chatting to you on WeChat, for example, then stop and give you a call to continue the exchange.

What next?

Clearly, Microsoft has the tech in place to enable bots to engage in rudimentary conversations with users in China, and it’s only a matter of time before it arrives in other countries. That said, they did develop an English-speaking bot called Tay, but that particular experiment ended extremely badly when it was taught to use racist language by Twitter users. Microsoft will therefore tread carefully before releasing another such bot into the English-speaking world.

As for Google, they’re already starting to test their Duplex technology. For now, the aim is to allow users to get their Google Assistant to make their bookings for them – this is likely to have appeal, especially amongst people who are extremely busy, hate making calls, or are simply too shy. Basically, you could get it to schedule an appointment for you while you do the things that you want or need to do, like spending time with family, finishing an important project, watching a movie, playing your favourite casino games at All Slots Casino, and more. Google has also taken steps to address the controversy surrounding the realistic bot voices. After all, most of us would like to know if we’re talking to a bot, as opposed to an actual human. Transparency and full disclosures will therefore become features of the system in future.

Until then, it looks like a future where we’ll all be engaging with robots that sound like humans, is just around the corner. Are you ready?