With the advent of Alexa and Siri, we've gotten more comfortable with the idea of talking with artificial intelligence software. But in those interactions, the AI tends to be standing in for something inanimate - a toaster, a kitchen timer, maybe a light switch. A couple of recent announcements, however, suggest that this relationship is about to get a lot more complicated.
Essential Products, a smartphone manufacturer started by Andy Rubin, creator of the Android OS, has announced the development of a new phone that will take on many of its users' social responsibilities. It will automatically respond to texts and emails, and can take care of scheduling tasks without any outside input. Because of its focus on autonomy, it will also look less like a conventional smartphone, with a smaller screen and an emphasis on control via voice; both of these developments line up with some predictions we made late last year.
At the same time, Google has announced that by the end of the year, its Duplex voice assistant software will be available on its Pixel smartphones. You may remember Duplex from its slightly creepy demo back in May, where the next-gen assistant made a hair salon appointment over the phone. Complete with "um" and "ah" pauses, it completed its task without the human on the other end realizing they had been talking with a ‘bot.
If you use Gmail, you may have already had a glimpse into the strangeness of this future. Google Smart Compose launched earlier this year, giving users suggestions for how to reply to emails - "Ok, sounds great!" or "Let me check on that" - and it is continuing to enhance its ability to auto-complete common phrases or introductions.
While this sounds initially very convenient, we anticipate some serious concerns emerging about just who we really are when we use these systems. Did your boss's email really "sound great" or was that just the closest approximation of what you really would have said? How polite do we need to be when we answer the phone, knowing the caller on the other end is most likely a 'bot - even if it's calling on behalf of Grandma? Did you really want to go skydiving, or did your phone just see that you had some free time this weekend and made a few calls? We expect to see questions of trust and honesty emerging alongside these technologies, with consumers pushing for new ways to understand and experience true human connections and know that their decisions - and their personalities - are truly their own.