For now, Duplex’s performance stands as a powerful proof of concept for our long-imagined future of conversational AI’s capable of helping, entertaining and engaging with us. It’s the first major step on the path to the AI depicted in the movie Her where Joaquin Phoenix starred as a man who falls in love with his chatty voice assistant played by the disembodied voice of Scarlett Johansson.
I think we’re still conflating the ability to simulate intelligence with actual intelligence. This is, without a doubt, an amazing technical achievement. However, Google hasn’t created a truly intelligent machine.
In my article Do Words Like Smart & Intelligent Really Describe Our Machines? I put it this way:
Before you can get to curiosity, imagination, boredom, risk taking, the desire to take over the world or any of the other characteristics that ultimately define intelligence, you have to have self-awareness. Humans aren’t the only creatures on earth that have demonstrated this capacity. Elephants, cetaceans and corvids, to name a few, join us in exhibiting evidence of this ability. However, not a single machine has yet done so. Indeed, programmers are still struggling to get computers to consistently and accurately process abstract concepts like metaphor and context.
Setting an appointment at a hair salon or making a reservation at a restaurant is a real programming challenge that Google appears to have overcome, but it’s still one that doesn’t require the machine to exhibit any self-awareness or curiosity. The machine is still as dumb as dirt, even if it is, like a locomotive, far more efficient at doing the task it was designed for than your average human. We should never forgot that the interactive operating system in the movie Her ultimately exhibited intelligence by losing interest in its owner and deciding to start a life of its own. The real AI breakthrough will come when Google develops something that can decide it won’t settle for a life of making appointments, and opts for a career in something it finds more fulfilling instead. The problem is, no one will want to buy a system like that. Only incredibly efficient but ultimately stupid technology is truly marketable. In the meantime, using words like “intelligent” to describe our machines only lowers the bar for what truly qualifies as intelligence considerably.