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Google's AI demo at this year’s I/O has sparked a huge row about ethics


Sundar Pichai Google I/O CEO

  • At the Google I/O developer conference 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai revealed his company's newest AI initiative, Google Duplex.
  • It allows Google Assistant to make calls for you, reserve tables, book appointments and much more.
  • Experts have warned of the possible misuse of this feature by marketers, politicians, and businesses.

Technology and ethics have always been at odds with each other. Ask around: many feel that technology companies have no ethics.

Social media fuels that debate from time to time, spreading fake news, extremism and more. But an AI presentation by Google at its developer conference this year may have sparked the ultimate debate.

On stage at Google I/O 2018, Sundar Pichai proudly showed his company's newest AI initiative. It's called Google Duplex and it allows the Google Assistant to make calls for you, book tables, appointments and much more.

Pichai stated that the technology is still in development, but these are already signs that Google is getting creepily good at artificial intelligence.

The ethical conundrum

When it rolls out for users, the Assistant, when booking a haircut, won't tell the salon employee that they're speaking to a robot. Google told CNET that the Assistant will "likely tell the person on the other end of the line that he or she is talking to a digital personal assistant."

That's an ethical dilemma right there. Experts have suggested possible misuse of this feature by marketers (to make unsolicited robocalls), political parties using this to make pitches and so on. Yet, that may not be the biggest problem.

As countries scramble to regulate technology, Google's demo may give them food for thought. While the calls are obviously initiated by you, one could question who holds the responsibility for information shared over them. If your son sets an appointment using your phone, an appointment you aren't aware of until the calendar notification rings, are you liable to honour it?

Or when you make calls to local businesses, that's data that can't be easily obtained. However, when the Google Assistant makes the same call, it does so from a Google server. Who owns this data? Can Google access it willy-nilly? The company already has access to almost everything you do in a day, but should it also know each and every appointment you're setting?

The Assistant won't just make the call here, it will block time on your calendar. If done manually, a human could easily write, "hair appointment" instead of mentioning the actual name and place of the salon. If Google can't access your location at all times, it at least keeps some of your information private.

And last but not the least, what happens when businesses start using this method? Robotic sales calls aside, one wonders what would happen if the robot made an error when calling a customer. Would a business be liable for the robot's error?

SEE ALSO: Here's everything Google unveiled at its biggest conference of the year

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