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Google’s Duplex Hints at a Dark Future for AI

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Earlier this week Google showed off the new Duplex feature of the Google Assistant. It was a stunning show, and possibly one of the first bit of software to clear the Turing Test. The stage demo showed the assistant calling a restaurant to make a reservation and seemingly avoiding detection of the restaurant workers. It was a truly impressive show, but TechCrunch notes that it’s disconcerting evidence that Google doesn’t have the serious ethical implications of AI in mind when they’re designing these systems.

“Google’s experiments do appear to have been designed to deceive,” Dr. Thomas King, a researcher at Oxford Internet Institute’s Digital Ethics Lab. “Because their main hypothesis was ‘can you distinguish this from a real person?’. In this case, it’s unclear why their hypothesis was about deception and not the user experience… You don’t necessarily need to deceive someone to give them a better user experience by sounding natural. And if they had instead tested the hypothesis ‘is this technology better than preceding versions or just as good as a human caller’ they would not have had to deceive people in the experiment.”

That may sound like a small issue, but there are serious ethical concerns with experiments, especially those done on or involving humans.

“Even if they don’t intend it to deceive you can say they’ve been negligent in not making sure it doesn’t deceive, Dr. King added. “I can’t say it’s definitely deceptive, but there should be some kind of mechanism there to let people know what it is they are speaking to… I’m at a university and if you’re going to do something which involves deception you have to really demonstrate there’s scientific value in doing this.”

At issue is the fact that knowing who and what you’re interacting with changes how we react. There is a myriad of small decisions we make based on those cues. Tone, for instance, can allow us to shift and better empathize with a human being. You may soften if you realize the person you’re speaking with is stressed or had a rough day.

“And if you start blurring the lines,” Dr. King said, “Then this can sew mistrust into all kinds of interactions — where we would become more suspicious as well as needlessly replacing people with meaningless agents.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that it was the pinnacle of all of Google’s recent work.

“It brings together all our investments over the years in natural language understanding, deep learning, text to speech,” Pichaei said. The calls, he said, were real, meaning that it’s unlikely that Google employees called ahead to give a heads up to the callees.

King also notes that humans come with biases about other humans, and robots could unintentionally reinforce some of them.

“If you were to use a robotic voice there would also be less of a risk that all of your voices that you’re synthesizing only represent a small minority of the population speaking in ‘BBC English’ and so, perhaps in a sense, using a robotic voice would even be less biased as well,” Dr. King said. “If it’s not obvious that it’s a robot voice there’s a risk that people come to expect that most of these phone calls are not genuine. Now experiments have shown that many people do interact with AI software that is conversational just as they would another person but at the same time there is also evidence showing that some people do the exact opposite — and they become a lot ruder. Sometimes even abusive towards conversational software. So if you’re constantly interacting with these bots you’re not going to be as polite, maybe, as you normally would, and that could potentially have effects for when you get a genuine caller that you do not know is real or not. Or even if you know they’re real perhaps the way you interact with people has changed a bit.”

These situations are delicate, but it’s important that even at these very early stages, we take AI ethics very, very seriously. As countless minds have before said, there are countless risks endemic to the creation of even pseudo-AI. And if we want to avoid the robot apocalypse, we best take those concepts seriously.

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General

This Alexa-Enabled Talking Fish Twerks and Responds to Your Voice

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Amazon has the perfect “catch” for quirky gift-givers this holiday season: an Alexa-enabled fish that twerks, sings, and acts like a mini personal assistant.

Meet Big Mouth Billy Bass, a wiggly wonder that’s only $39.99 and a step up from the conventional smart home set-up. This bad boy gets groovy to the original song “Fishin’ Time” and has a personality of his own. The best part? You can connect Big Mouth Billy Bass to a compatible Echo device and receive all the Alexa perks, including voice-recognition commands, reminders, and more.

Once Big Mouth Billy Bass is synced with a compatible Echo device, he’ll dance to songs played through Amazon Music, perk his head up when you say “Alexa,” and move his mouth to lip-sync with Alexa responses. Plus, he also moves around when an Alexa alarm, reminder, or timer is triggered.

You’ll scare any guests that visit your house, because they’ll think that Big Mouth Billy Bass is a stationary home decor decoration. Once the tacky fish responds to Alexa activity, they’ll be totally surprised and caught off guard.

If you’re still not “hooked” on Big Mouth Billy Bass, see what customers had to say about this hilarious fish and why they bought it for their homes.

Gary McKnight, an Amazon customer, writes:

“I bought this because it looked terrifying having Alexa’s voice coming from a mounted fish and I was not disappointed. This thing creepy. The way is swings it’s head and tells you with cold dead eyes that your package has arrived is amazing.”

And Dr. B.L., another Amazon reviewer, says:

“I have a lot of art in my house, but none of its makes me laugh. Billy Bass does! It’s “ketchy,” [and] it’s plastic, but that’s what makes it fun. And, it’s responsive…in a hysterical way.”

If you know someone who could use some humor around the holidays, gift them Big Mouth Billy Bass. For only $39.99, you’ll delight them with a weird and hilarious present that’s smart-home compatible and will generate lots of laughs.

Buy Big Mouth Billy Bass here

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General

Report: Amazon Go Eyes Airports For Checkout-Free Stores

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Amazon reportedly wants to bring its checkout-free store format to airports, according to Reuters.

First introduced in Seattle early this year, Amazon Go invites customers to “just grab and go”—no checkout required.

The setup—already operational in California, Illinois, and Washington—is ideal for hungry, time-pressed travelers, Reuters said, citing public records and “a person familiar with the strategy.”

Customers can simply sign into the Amazon Go mobile app to enter the store, shop as usual, and walk out the doors without touching a wallet or pin pad.

Relying on computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning (the same functions used in self-driving cars), the company’s so-called “Just Walk Out Technology” automatically detects when a product is removed from or returned to shelves, and keeps track of them in a virtual cart.

Upon departure, your Amazon account is charged and a receipt is sent.

The company, which built its fortune as an online bookseller, has opened seven outposts since January: in Chicago, its hometown Seattle, and, most recently, San Francisco.

Moving into airports certainly makes sense: Hundreds of millions of passengers board flights at the country’s busiest airports every year. And who can be bothered to chat with a cashier or wait in long lines while connecting between flights? The grab-and-go strategy is effortless—particularly when hauling luggage.

It’s not as easy as installing scanners and prepping food, though: Airport employees must gain security clearances; square footage is expensive to lease; and public bids are often required.

That doesn’t seem to have stopped Amazon from at least exploring the possibility.

Citing email correspondence between the e-commerce giant and “top U.S. airports,” Reuters tipped possible launches at Los Angeles International (the second-busiest airport in the country) and San Jose International.

The news comes just one week after The Wall Street Journal reported plans for Amazon to bring its cashier-less technology to bigger stores.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

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Apple

Oops: Apple’s Squid Emoji is Upside Down

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Silicon Valley has a habit of not learning from its mistakes.

The Internet made a scene early this year when Unicode revealed 157 new emojis—including something vaguely like a wheeled transport device, a backwards Deoxyribonucleic acid, and an anatomically incorrect shellfish.

Now, we all send texts featuring modern skateboards, right-handed double helixes, and 10-legged lobsters … and, apparently, upside-down squid.

On Wednesday, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California tweeted the alarming fact that “Apple’s squid emoji is upside down.”

“Not even squidding,” the museum wrote. “The siphon should be behind the head. [Right now] it just looks like a weirdo nose.”

The muscular structure, located on the mantle, is used for respiration and discharge of waste, as well as locomotion. Water gets sucked into the mantle cavity, then pushed out of the funnel in a fast, strong jet. Its direction can be changed to suit the traveler’s route.

But no matter what, the siphon can not physically move from one side of the body to the other.

In Cupertino’s version, the cephalopod looks like Karl Malden.

“I noticed the error when I first saw the game but had some pressing ocean issues prioritized ahead of it,” Patrick Webster, social media content creator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said in a statement emailed to Geek. “[Wednesday] morning, a meme template with a penchant for biologically accurate emoji asked to use our Twitter feed for a quick PSA, and now here we are.”

The squid emoji was first introduced in 2016. But folks must have been too incensed by Google’s upside-down cheeseburger to even notice.

More than 70 new emoji were released as part of Apple’s recent iOS 12.1 update; iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac users now have access to characters with red, grey, or curly hair, more emotive smiley faces; and additional representations of animals, sports, and food (including a cream cheese-covered bagel).

There is no word on whether the squid issue will be resolved. Apple did not immediately respond to Geek’s request for comment.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Friday, Dec. 7, with comment from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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