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Were those Google Duplex AI calls edited or faked? Google won't say

Several questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the impressive AI calls, but Google isn't answering them.

Published onMay 18, 2018

  • Media outlet Axios has highlighted several issues with Google’s AI-powered calls shown at its developer conference.
  • The employees in these calls don’t identify their workplace or ask for contact details when confirming appointments.
  • Google representatives haven’t addressed these concerns, raising questions about their legitimacy.

Google made headlines around the world for its Google Duplex demo, showing us a voice assistant that’s able to call businesses on our behalf. It made for an eerie experience, as the AI-powered assistant conversed like a human, but did Google edit or even stage these calls?

News publication Axios has raised several important questions regarding the demo, which saw the AI assistant call a hair salon and a restaurant.

The Google Duplex concerns

The publication notes that employees “almost always” identify their workplace when answering a call. In the case of both Google Duplex calls, the employee merely greets and asks the caller if they need help. No “welcome to [insert salon]” or “hi, I’m [insert name].”

To prove the point, the outlet contacted over two dozen hair salons and restaurants, including a few in Google’s home city of Mountain View. Every person identified their business at the beginning of the call.

The Google Duplex calls also lacked any sort of background noise you’d expect to hear from a restaurant or hair salon. Axios noted that ambient noise was heard in most of the calls they made, though there were a few exceptions.

The third concern was that, in the two calls played at I/O, neither employee asked for the assistant’s contact details. When was the last time you made a restaurant appointment and didn’t get asked for your phone number or email address?

Google’s response?

Google Duplex

What did Google have to say about these concerns? Axios asked the company to provide the names of the two businesses, pledging to keep them private. A Google representative declined to provide these names.

The outlet then asked two Google representatives whether these calls were edited in any way. The representatives didn’t get back to them.

AI raced out of the blocks at Google I/O 2018, and there's much more to come

Vanity Fair also raised the issue of recording legalities, as California requires both parties to consent for a call to be recorded. This means Google had to request consent to record the employee beforehand — and if we are hearing the entire calls Google made, as we’re lead to believe, that doesn’t happen.

If Google failed to request consent, it would be breaking the law. However, it’s possible that the company side-stepped this by having an employee pose as a salon/restaurant worker. It’s all speculative, but adds to the concerns surrounding the demonstration.

This isn’t necessarily a damning moment for Google. It could be a case of light editing to avoid personally identifiable information, for example. On the other hand, it could have been staged, and Google’s silence doesn’t help.

We’ve contacted Google’s communications team and will update the article when/if we receive a response.

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