Follow the Yellow Brick Road… to Duplex

Image: No, not that duplex. You’ll see below. Credits to Kgbo (license: CC BY-SA 3.0 license).




When a duplex is not a duplex but Google’s Duplex. Some thought on Artificial Intelligence.

Last time I checked, a Duplex was a paired home, which actually were two homes that shared a common wall separating them. Also, my grandma used to say that she lived in a duplex because hers was a two story house.

But now as of #IO18, we have Google’s Duplex, which has nothing to do with dwellings, but with AI.

Some have dubbed it “terrifying”, “unethical” and “immoral”, and Google has quickly responded to that by explaining that a built-in disclosure would be expressed every time the bot would work for someone.

Nevertheless, the phone call during Google’s I/O using its new AI assistant, Duplex, went through seamlessly. Perfectly. Too perfectly, I should say. So perfect, that it was eerie. Amidst the ohhhs, ahhhs, and the applauding techie crowd, one could glimpse a feeling, first observed when the Lumière brothers screened “L’Arrivée d’un train en Gare de La Ciotat (or “The arrival of a train to La Ciotat Station”) in Paris (circa 1896). The story goes that the applauding crowd (does it sound familiar?) broke into panic, “screaming and running for their lives” as the train on the screen seemed to head straight toward them. You may believe or not that an educated Parisian audience, some wearing chapeaus and glamorous dresses, suddenly was taken over by primitive fears and thrown to a troglodyte state. But the similarities are there.

But don’t get me wrong. I am all for advances in technology, in fact I have developed Apps and written books to prove it. I have carried the flag of technical progress to the confines of the world, holding it proudly. However, after watching Google’s I/O conference, I had to pause momentarily (just momentarily), to ponder. Asking those philosophical questions that pop up in the strangest of situations, when one sees that nothing can stop the advance of technology.

And the episode we are living now with Duplex, is a cultural changing moment, a paradigm being broken in our own face. Yes, not with the passage of time, like the industrial revolution, but the change is happening right NOW. In that conference. By Google using AI.

You see, AI is a beautiful human creation, so beautiful that it imitates life. If used properly it can help us humans reach further in science and help others in the process. AI is an evolving algorithm, or should I say an entity, that learns from others and from itself. In this continuously evolving process AI can anticipate our moves, mimic our voices, have a chat with us, make intelligent decisions on our behalf, deceive others that we’re conversing with them. The possibilities are endless.

But, what about those behind it? Can Google and other big corporations or marketers gather so much information about us, about our digital lives that they may be able to control us? You see, now they can garner even our conversations, our voices, our private decisions, selling us on the idea that it is fun, or convenient, a time-saver, or just a gimmick. But how much more personal information we will have to surrender until they are satisfied? Aren’t’ the wizards ever satisfied?

In my book “Smile, You’re under Surveillance” I warn you, the reader, to preserve as much information about you as possible, following OpSec steps and other secret measures, with the purpose of maintaining your life, private.

Google’s Duplex is certainly a big step for mankind, comparable to other great history moments, but guys, right now I feel that we should heed Google’s and Alphabet’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt’s advise “You need to fight for your privacy or you’ll lose it!”.