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1. Google Duplex isn’t quite the AI we believed

Google Duplex

Google Duplex, which Google calls “An AI system for accomplishing real-world tasks over the phone,” isn’t quite just that.

A New York Times article published yesterday reveals that on many occasions, Google Duplex calls are initiated by a human in a call center, or have human interventions when things go off the rails.

The details:

  • “We tested Duplex for several days, calling more than a dozen restaurants, and our tests showed a heavy reliance on humans,” writes the Times.
  • “Among our four successful bookings with Duplex, three were done by people.”
  • Not that the AI is bad: “When calls were actually placed by Google’s artificially intelligent assistant, the bot sounded very much like a real person and was even able to respond to nuanced questions.”
  • The report says the human touch was required for multiple reasons – Duplex didn’t always catch on that reservations were available before making a call, and more importantly, Google’s machine learning systems always need new data to learn and improve, and human interactions are the only way to do this.
  • Google also said it wants to take a “conservative approach” for now – not wanting to mistakenly unleash a less than perfect solution on restaurants and frustrate staff answering the calls.

Why it matters:

  • There’s genuine surprise by many people I’ve spoken to that Google has marketed Duplex as an AI system, while the actual experience relies heavily on humans.
  • Google’s original announcement in 2018 does mention human supervision, but not quite fully revealing the extent of what humans would still be doing more than a year later.
  • It’s somewhat reassuring that AI isn’t there yet, even to handle a single booking scenario.
  • It’s also somewhat disingenuous, given what’s true and what’s not – Google is still learning, Duplex isn’t all-knowing, and edge cases cause all kinds of problems.
  • Humans still do most of what “humanlike” AI needs to work, and this is another chapter. It’s not a huge surprise, but the problem is the average person probably believes the marketing hype about AI, rather than the reality.
  • Another case of technology advances in AI being oversold: Tesla’s Autopilot new automated lane change system, which Consumer Reports yesterday flatly said “create[s] potential safety risks”.
  • When it comes to something advertised as AI, the old “trust but verify rule” goes out: we can’t trust, we can’t easily verify, and being cautious about promises seems to be the only way.

2. Today’s surprise news: Amazon is working on a wearable device that reads human emotions (Bloomberg).

3. The Huawei ban isn’t just bad for Huawei and its suppliers, it’s bad for Android in general (Android Authority). Toshiba and Panasonic have also stopped shipments, as non-U.S. companies play U.S. restrictions cautiously.

4. KaiOS gets $50m in funding, hits 100m phones shipped (AA).

5. What Apple’s WWDC 2019 invite for June 3 teases about the next iOS and MacOS (CNET).

6. Razer Blade 15 Advanced review: good gaming machine, bad laptop (The Verge).

7. Here’s how the four major voice assistants respond to sexual harassment (Twitter). Siri is just the worst.

8. The future of AT&T is an ad-tracking nightmare hellworld (The Verge).

9. Mario Kart Tour has the makings of a great game, but be ready to deal with micro-transactions (AA). Again with the nickel and diming.

10. “If you could take a bath in anything you wanted, what would it be?” (r/askreddit).

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