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Artificial Intelligence

Conspiracy Theory Alert: Google Might Have Faked That AI Demo Call

Get your tin foil hat ready.

Kristin HouserMay 17th 2018

It was the haircut booking heard round the world. Or at least the tech world, anyways. But was it real?

On May 8, Google demoed a new Google Assistant feature called Duplex, a technology designed to tackle our tedious phone conversations. Don’t feel like making a restaurant reservation or calling the salon? Let an AI do it for you.

During the AI demo, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the audience, “What you’re going to hear is the Google Assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment for you.”

And that’s what it sounded like. Over the course of about a minute, the AI calls up the salon, exchanges pleasantries with the receptionist, and books an appointment — the receptionist seemingly completely unaware she’s speaking to an AI.

The AI’s nearly flawless impersonation of a human is so remarkable, it’s easy to forgive listeners for not initially noticing the call doesn’t quite follow the typical script. In hindsight, though, a few things just don’t line up. Eventually, people started to take notice.

As first pointed out by Axios:

  • The person on the other end of the line doesn’t identify themselves or the business by name.
  • There’s no ambient background noise. No chatting customers, or whirring hair dryers.
  • The receptionist only asks the AI for a first name and not a phone number to complete the booking.

Axios reached out to Google for answers, but hit a wall. The company wouldn’t hand over the name of the salon, even though Axios guaranteed not to release it. Google also wouldn’t comment on whether or not they’d edited the video in any way.

So far, only a couple of publications have picked up this theory, despite the demo clip now boasting 1.4 million views on YouTube. And the whole scenario has sparked quite the ethical debate.

Google did tell CNET 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.” But didn’t offer any more information. However, if enough people start demanding answers from Google (*cough* Twitter *cough*), perhaps the company will feel compelled to address these questions.

If not, the case of the fake AI demo might just be another juicy conspiracy theory that goes unresolved.

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