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Google Duplex will Disclose That it is Google Assistant Calling

The Google I/O developer conference this week had a lot of news, particularly when it comes to voice. However, the biggest story by a wide margin is the Google Duplex service which is scheduled to launch in the U.S. in July. Google Duplex is a Google Assistant service that will make appointments for users at hair salons, set reservations at restaurants or verify store hours for a retailer. It does this by making a phone call on the user’s behalf. The demonstration that I captured during Google I/O is included below.

Google Duplex Will Have “Disclosure Built-in”

There were many questions after the demonstration including how Google would address laws in 12 U.S. states that prohibit recording of telephone conversations without both parties’ consent (Voicebot was the first to report on Google’s approach to legal compliance here). The second big question was whether Google had an obligation to inform the person that answered the call that they were speaking with a robot. This question arose because the synthetic speech is so good that it would be easy to think it was a human. These aren’t your traditional robot voices as demonstrated in the video above.

It doesn’t appear that Google is under any legal obligation to disclose this information given the type of transactions it is executing for users. However, Google may have seen the public relations benefit of offering disclosure for the launch period. In a statement to CNET’s Richard Nieva, a Google spokeswoman said:

We are designing this feature with Disclosure built-in.

“We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex — as we’ve said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product.”

Innovation often requires people to think through the implications beyond whether it will work technically. I suspect this solution will be welcomed by many small businesses as a way to book more appointments and dinner reservations. The fact that it is a robot is inconsequential when you consider they would have spent the same amount of time with human. With that said, humans have heightened sensitivity about interacting with AI-based assistants and until the comfort level rises, practices like disclosure will likely be in the best interest of the technology providers putting the new services in market.

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