Of Two Minds

I read Ethan Marcotte’s article about Google’s recently announced service / product called Duplex. In it, he lays out the following argument:

Frankly, this technology was designed to deceive humans. That’s not a value judgment, mind: the aim of the product is to act as human-sounding as possible. What’s more, the demos above are impressive because Duplex specifically withholds the fact that it’s not human. The net effect is, for better and for worse, a form of deception. Duplex was elegantly, intentionally designed to deceive. (And given that reality’s on shaky ground as it is, I don’t think this is the most responsible goal.)

I’m of two completely separate minds on this. One the one hand, I completely agree with the doubters thinking. Let’s not mince words here, Google, given its history, stands to be viewed upon with a hefty bit of skepticism when it comes to doing what’s “right”. But let’s say that’s not it. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say Google has every good intention in this particular space. What about others? What about the malicious folk out there? What about the people who are out there to scheme and cheat and rip people off? Isn’t Google giving them, right out of the gate, a tool to aid in their shenanigans?

This ultimately comes back to the old adage of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. I don’t know that we’ve held technology to that standard enough recently. A perfect example of this is the creation and, more importantly, the use of self-driving cars when the tech is not absolutely rock-solid.

Having said all of that, I was reading a tweet last night from someone whose name I have known for a while, but didn’t know a particular fact about. This gentleman stutters. Like me. He viewed this in a completely different light. His idea was that the Duplex “product” could be used in a very nice and productive way by people who have speech disabilities. Like he and I do. It was eye-opening. I think I even re-tweeted it with “Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, etc.”

Because I can completely see his point. I HATE talking on the phone. It makes me anxious, nervous, and scared. I get over it, and conquer it, but it’s an every-single-situation kind of thing. What if I didn’t have to do that but 40% of the time I do it now? That would help me. Would I like to be 60% less anxious? You’re damn right I would be.

The well-being of global society is still winning in my head, and I will go on record as thinking this might not be the best thing. But it’s not as much of a slam dunk as I would have originally thought.

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