You May Be Speaking With A Robot. Should You Know?

Our users’ well-being always comes first. This was my first thought when reading about Google Duplex.

For those who haven’t seen the demo, Google Duplex is a new, advanced virtual assistant that uses artificial intelligence to make live phone calls to businesses to schedule appointments on your behalf. Google’s demo included scheduling a hair salon appointment and a restaurant reservation. Cool stuff.

But in these demos, the real-life person receiving the calls from Google Duplex, had no idea they were speaking with a robot. Google Duplex’s ability to replicate human speech, complete with pauses and stutters, meant that the calls started and ended with none the wiser.

The question is…is that right? Should we receive advance notice that we’re communicating with a robot? Is there an ethical conundrum lurking in this new tech?

Interestingly, about six months before the launch of Google Duplex, our team here at MDT Marketing had a very similar ethical concern. With our latest chatbot solution, we were now programming lifelike conversations with prospective students inquiring about education. The internal question we had was, “Does the prospective student need to know they’re talking with a robot?” We began to see some potential back-end issues like compliance, misrepresentation, and just the general feeling one could have for feeling ‘duped’ if they later became aware that they were not speaking with a human.

Though we wanted the chat conversations to be fully organic and comfortable for users, we felt compelled to be straight-up with the end user. Therefore, right in our very first communication, we added a clarification that the user was communicating with a bot. It was a decision we felt comfortable with and that also provided a layer of protection for our clients.

How did that disclaimer affect our chatbot’s performance? From our tests, it didn’t! Who knows, perhaps the right disclaimer is basis for the peaceful coexistence between humans and bots.

Fast forward several months to Google’s demonstration of Duplex. They didn’t use disclaimers in their calls. That decision got Google a lot of concerned feedback. Within a short time, Google announced that they understood the concern and had added a bot disclaimer to the beginning of Duplex’s communications.

What does this all mean?

Through all the crazy fast technological advancement in today’s world, it’s our responsibility to put our users first. We can’t expect that people will be able to keep up with all these rapid-fire changes on their own, no matter how we update our Terms and Conditions docs (you know nobody’s reading them). MDT firmly believes that putting our users first is important for building their trust, it keeps us ahead of shifts in policy, and it keeps our clients safe and happy.

Most importantly, it’s just the right thing to do.