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Is it ethical for A.I. to have a human voice?

Google's recent AI technology that can mimic humans is raising ethical concerns.
Credit: Big Think

On May 8th, Google rolled out Duplex, a new AI technology that is able to hold human-sounding conversations. The tech drew astonishment across a wide spectrum of the internet at the ability of the AI to interact with an unsuspecting human when making an appointment for a haircut. Duplex was able to adjust to the information given and even inserted a few fillers like “uh” and “hmm” into its speech, coming across quite realistically. And what’s even better – the AI accomplished its task, booking the appointment.

While undeniably impressive, Google’s demonstration also raised a host of concerns focused on what it means that an AI can be made to sound like a human. Is it ethical for an A.I. to have a human voice and impersonate a human? Or should there be a way for humans to always know they are conversing with an AI? 

Duplex is built to make the A.I. sound like you are talking to a regular person. Trained to do well in narrow domains, Duplex is directed towards specific tasks, such as scheduling appointments. That is to say, Duplex can’t talk to you about random things just yet, but as part of the Google Assistant, it could be quite useful. 

The way it achieves the naturalness is by synthesizing speech that is modeled after the imperfect speech of humans, full of corrections, omissions or undue verbosity. As Google explains on its blog, Duplex is a recurrent neural network (RNN) at its core that is built utilizing the TensorFlow Extended (TFX) machine learning platform.

The network was trained on anonymous phone conversation data. It can look at such factors as features from the audio, the goal, and the history of the conversation. The speech it generates can control intonation depending on the circumstance,” as it’s described in the Google’s blog.

The AI also varies the speed of its response to the other speaker based on the words used and the overall situation. Most of the tasks are completed fully autonomously, without any human interaction.

Here’s how that call by the AI to the hair salon went, as presented by the Google CEO Sundar Pichai: 


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