On Tuesday, Google showed off Duplex, a new service the company is testing that allows Google Assistant to call establishments on a user’s behalf to make a dinner reservation or schedule a haircut. The voice synthesis in these calls is jaw-dropping:
With a few millisecond mistakes, Duplex sounds like a human, complete with mmms and uhhs and cheery colloquialisms. The ability of the AI to respond to real, messy language and unexpected sequences is also incredible. Generating conversational human sentences in real time can probably be considered a “solved problem,” as people around here like to say.
The audio suggests that computer voices just skipped right past 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it turns out robots won’t sound like an overlord, but a, uhh, Millennial.
The way Google presented the technology encouraged people to think about themselves as powerful users, casting magic bots out across the world to do our bidding. But it’s the other side of the interaction that deserves attention.
What new skills will service workers develop to identify and respond to voice bots calling on behalf of a “client” (as Duplex put it on one call)? Will the bots get equal service? How will these systems be used to generate better spam? Will the true privilege of high-wage work be the satisfaction of working with other (real) people, while low-wage workers increasingly interact with bots and screens?