Google CEO Sundar Pichai gave a demonstration of new artificial intelligence technology Duplex this week at Google I/O 2018 - and it is already stirring debate around the legal and ethical issues of virtual assistants.
In a presentation reminiscent of the late Steve Jobs’ demo of the early iPhone, an actual telephone conversation was played out between Google Assistant and the receptionist at a hair salon with the tool successfully booking an appointment. The lifelike interactions and ability of the virtual tool to recognise nuances in the conversation were impressive - and may signal a new wave of AI in the same way that Apple’s iPhone brought the smartphone to the world.
Of course, the new technology will pose risks - from the practical (for example, if the tech fails to recognise an accent or cannot complete its task for some other reason) to the legal (who would be liable if the bot disclosed personal data? Can a non-human assistant create a legally binding oral contract?).
Lawyers are already putting their minds to these issues and it will be interesting to see how this technology is handled by courts and legislators around the world.
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?