Should People Know They’re Talking To An Algorithm? After A Controversial Debut, Google Now Says Yes

By David Pierson
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) On Tuesday, Google unveiled an assistant that’s able to make calls to schedule appointments while speaking in a nearly flawless human voice replete with “ums” and “ahs.” At no point during the presentation did Google’s software reveal it isn’t human, sparking a debate about ethics and consent.

Los Angeles Times

Psychology professor Michelle Drouin wanted to know how people would react if a chatbot could emulate a human.

So she and her fellow researchers split 350 undergraduate students into three groups. One group was told they would be interacting with a bot. Another was told it was a real person. And the last was only informed after the interaction they had been communicating with an algorithm.

The first two groups were nearly equally happy with the experience. But the last group was not.

“They felt an eeriness about it,” said Drouin of Purdue University Fort Wayne. “They thought they were being deceived.”

It’s a reaction Silicon Valley companies may want to pay close attention to as they continue to push the boundaries of artificial intelligence to create ever more realistic virtual assistants.

On Tuesday, Google unveiled an assistant that’s able to make calls to schedule appointments while speaking in a nearly flawless human voice replete with “ums” and “ahs.” At no point during the presentation did Google’s software reveal it isn’t human, sparking a debate about ethics and consent.

On Thursday, Google reversed course by saying explicitly that the service, known as Google Duplex, would include a disclosure that it’s not a person.

“We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex, as we’ve said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important,” a company spokesperson said. “We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified.”

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