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Hard to tell apart from humans: Google presents the perfectly speaking assistant at the developer conference



Hard to tell apart from humans: Google presents the perfectly speaking assistant at the developer conference


A computer that cannot be distinguished from a human on the phone shows particularly impressive Google’s strengths in artificial intelligence. Learning machines should also process photos, formulate e-mails – and teach children manners.

By Andrej Sokolow and Christoph Dernbach, dpa

The conversation sounded like an ordinary phone call with a “Hi, um, I would like to reserve a table for Wednesday, the 7th.” Group. As is so often the case in such cases, a misunderstanding ensued. “For seven people?” Asked the employee. “Ummm, for four people,” corrected the program.

Google makes the Assistant sound more human than ever

The demonstration at the start of the Google I / O developer conference was a first for mankind: a machine that can not only conduct a conversation flawlessly, but is indistinguishable from a human with its computer-generated voice. The pauses and “ums” and “ums” made the assistant sound even more human than even the invented computer assistants in films. Because the Google software perfectly imitated the way we “Uhum”, the assistant casually acknowledged in a second call when the employee of a hairdressing salon asked for a second of patience while she looked at the appointment calendar. If there was one thing that made software different from humans, it was at most the patience with which it worked its way through a conversation that was not going smoothly.

Start date still unclear

Google has been working on this technology, known as Google Duplex, for years, said Google boss Sundar Pichai. But one wants to “get it right” before it is available to users, he said. There was therefore no specific start date. But the consequences are clear: in the foreseeable future we will have to deal with machines that cannot be distinguished from people on the phone. This heralds new questions. Should computers be required to identify themselves as such? What does this mean for media like radio? And if at some point such computer assistants meet at both ends of the phone line, should they just drop the language and exchange the data non-verbally? Pichai emphasizes that in the end, society must come to an agreement on when and how such software may be used. In any case, Google tries to proceed with caution and very specifically select suitable applications that make life easier without causing conflicts. At Google Duplex, speech recognition, speech output and machine learning come together in one service. It was the most sensational example of the use of artificial intelligence at Google, which otherwise also automatically processes photos, suggests sentences in e-mails or uses smart app management to extend the life of smartphone batteries.

Data protection? No problem

At the same time, Google boss Pichai did not address the climate of general distrust of technology giants in his appearance, which is a high point in the Facebook-Data scandal took place. His opening keynote at Google I / O was characterized by what is now an unusual, almost cheerful enthusiasm for technology. Data protection wasn’t a prominent issue – after all, all of the cool functions don’t work without access to user information. At the same time, Pichai assured that Google would proceed cautiously and responsibly with artificial intelligence.

However, the debate about dependence on technology, especially smartphones, brought an unusual new tone to the annual I / O conference. Google was committed to “digital wellbeing”. In other words: Users should switch off from time to time – and Google will help them with that. So you will be able to set time limits for the daily use of individual apps. And turning the smartphone on the table with the display facing downwards can activate the “do not disturb” mode, for example when you are having dinner with the family and do not want to be constantly disturbed by a humming mobile phone.

In yet another response to recent public debates, Google is letting its assistants teach manners to children as well. Parents are concerned that their offspring will get used to a rude tone because digital helpers such as Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri can be ordered around at will. The Google software will now praise the children when they politely say “please”.