Google Duplex: What are the Security Implications?
This new AI could present new challenges as well as opportunities
- By Harold Kilpatrick
- Jun 29, 2018
Google Duplex is designed to be indistinguishable from a human. This level of sophistication is not easy to achieve but has been considered the holy grail of AI research for years now. However, as impressive a feat as it would be to introduce an AI so advanced as to be indistinguishable from a human in conversation, such an AI would present new challenges as well as opportunities.
For one thing, when AI behaves predictably, it’s much easier to spot when something has gone wrong. More importantly, it’s much easier to detect whether someone else has tampered with it to have it collect sensitive information. Duplex has been designed to interact with other humans on behalf of the user, for example, to book hotel appointments. In fact, Google has gone as far as to include vocal tics like ‘ums and uhs’ in its natural speech patterns.
In the short term, there are concerns that the system could be hijacked and made to say words chosen by hackers. In the long run, as this technology proliferates and diversifies, people may never be entirely sure whether they are in a conversation with a human or an AI. Which brings us on to our next point.
If this technology is to become as ubiquitous as Google is hoping it will, we’ll have to face unique ethical and moral challenges. Not least of all the question of how we verify whether we’re speaking to a human or a machine. This is a very cool demonstration of the technology, but it doesn’t offer many real-world benefits to the average user. It does present an absolute goldmine for fraudsters though.
A machine that could speak to humans, and make them believe they are talking to another human, could easily be abused by fraudsters. They would no longer have to worry about a poor performance giving them away; the AI will have no nerves or concerns for its freedom. An AI could conduct call after call without suffering from fatigue, allowing for an unprecedented form of a phishing scam to be perpetrated.
Google is eager to emphasize that that isn’t the purpose of Duplex. They believe that the inclusion of vocal tics makes the technology more user-friendly and less intimidating. That might be true, but it leaves the question of how we can verify who we are speaking with at any given time. How can such a verification occur over the phone in a way that is not replicable by malicious actors?
Google also insist that they understand the concerns about transparency and they are determined to be as open and transparent as possible. As it stands, none of Google’s demonstrations of the tech so far have given us a glimpse of any kind of verification process. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, Google have certainly been clear that they want it to exist.
However, Google’s stance does beg the question – if you want to be transparent, why hide the fact it’s not a human, to begin with? The use of imperfect speaking and the extra effort that has gone into making it sound human suggests that far from being an unfortunate consequence of the technology, hiding the identity of Duplex is the entire point.
Given events that have happened over the last few years, there is a growing chasm of mistrust between consumers and tech companies. Until the Facebook scandal, when the business’s true intentions and utter lack of a sense of responsibility were laid bare, there had existed an uneasy truce between tech giants and their customers.
There is no doubt that businesses like Google, Apple, Facebook, etc., have legitimate and harmless reasons to collect personal data about their users. When that data is anonymized properly, it doesn’t compromise our privacy. However, coupled with the industrialized mass-deception that is fake news, there is now a concern about the amount of power that we have collectively seceded to a select few tech giants.
In the current environment, Duplex will ultimately stand or fall on whether it can win the trust of the general public. The potential proliferation of services like Duplex is an excellent reason to invest in a VPN. A virtual private network will prevent you from being tracked and traced online, therefore improving your anonymity. While the technology is still maturing, and you may be understandably wary about giving away too much private information, you should investigate services such.
Google’s Duplex is an exciting demonstration of new and innovative technologies. However, it also throws up some entirely unprecedented ethical and moral quandaries. Solving these security issues will require as much discussion and debate as it will coding.