back to article 'We're not claiming to replace humans,' says Google, but we want to be 'close enough' that you can't tell it's a bot talking

Google has teased new bot technology aimed mainly at contact centres as part of its Cloud AI week in the seemingly unending Cloud Next OnAir videofest. This includes the ability to train text-to-speech on a human voice so that you could create recordings that sound as if a specific person spoke them – a technology with obvious …

  1. iron Silver badge

    All very fancy sounding but how does it handle a Geordie accent or Brum or Glesga?

    It's all fun and games until someone has an accent.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      If you talk back at a bot then this gives it the ability to get your accent and then start calling your friends.

    2. trashsilo
      Joke

      Dudley legends

      During the war, a British General visited an Army Hospital of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Sensing a doom and gloom atmosphere he tried to rally the men by asking :

      "Now you men didn't come here to die did you?"

      To which Aynuk and Ayli replied

      "Na sur, way booth coomd ere yesterdie."

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Dudley legends

        That reminds me of another war-time joke.

        Officer: 'Smith! I didn't see you at camouflage class this morning.'

        Smith: 'Thank you sir!'

    3. 0laf Silver badge
      Trollface

      Standard reference to Burnistoun voice recognition lift sketch

      https://youtu.be/sAz_UvnUeuU

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bot test

    Sadly I had a human fail the ‘name a stripey horse if you are not a bot’ test.

    1. Stumpy Silver badge

      Re: Bot test

      I called mine 'Bert'

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Bot test

      There is an overlap here between the best of the bots and the least able humans.

      Similarly, the brightest dogs outshine the weakest humans.

      1. T. F. M. Reader

        Re: Bot test

        But Google want you to announce your bots to users, whereas no one on the 'net knows you are a dog...

    3. dajames Silver badge

      Re: Bot test

      Sadly I had a human fail the ‘name a stripey horse if you are not a bot’ test.

      Hmm ... do I say "Zebbra" or "Zeebra", and what inference will be drawn from my pronunciation? What will it tell the questioner about my age, education, and social background?

      It's not that easy after all ... best play dumb and avoid the issue ...

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    We get phone calls at work and home continually, they sound just like a real person, their first words are, "Do not hang up the phone this is an importan"- at that point I hang up on them every time. So I expect this new technology will become widespread to promote insurance and credit card fraud - this is a big market, you can see why Google is interested.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Version 1.0 - You are a patient person

      I usually hang up just after the "do not ha..."

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    we're not claiming we're going to be able to replace humans

    nosir, we're simply working hard to make this happen. Not because we're anti-human, but because of money, nothing personal!

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Oh, the irony

    "... all customers requesting this will be subject to ethical review..."

    Google wants an ethical review of its customers...

    Stop the world - I want to get off.

    1. Simon Ward

      Re: Oh, the irony

      Well, they have to train Sundar Pichai's neural network somehow ...

      Facebook are probably doing something similar in a vain attempt to make the Zuckerborg pass for human.

    2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: Oh, the irony

      Google wants an ethical review of its customers...

      Well, they don't want anyone being more evil them. Which means they won't have Apple, Amazon or Oracle for customers. (they don't have to worry about Microsoft, they've already surpassed THAT hurdle).

  7. Andy Non Silver badge
    FAIL

    Garbage in garbage out

    I'm not convinced that talking bots will be much better than text/chat bots are at present, probably just more infuriating to deal with when you ask something that is not in its database. At least human script jockeys pass you on to a supervisor when they don't understand.

    I updated several email addresses recently and updated my accounts with most organisations via their websites with the exception of a couple. One being my energy supplier (Shell Energy) who had no facility to update email address. I clicked "contact" expecting a means to contact a human being either by telephone or email but instead got a text based chat bot. It half grasped that I wanted to update something and gave me a link to the page where you can update your phone number but nothing else. I tried to tell it the information it gave me was incorrect but of course that went right over its head. I asked it if I could speak to a real person but apparently not. So it is effectively impossible for me to contact them or to get my email address updated. I added a few four letter words to the chat bots dictionary and gave up.

    Every month Shell Energy sends me an email with the link for me to submit that months gas and electricity meter readings. That email will now bounce back to them as undeliverable and consequently I won't be sending them any more meter readings.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Garbage in garbage out

      According to the article, Gartner says by 2023, 70% of customers will prefer a robot so you must be in s minority.

      Of course it is possible that Gartner was naked from the waist down when they pulled that statistic from its storage.

      The only thing that pisses me off more than a bot is when companies fob you of with a link to a help forum that is usually no help at all.

      I class that as a hindrance not a help.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Garbage in garbage out

        Ah, you are an O2 customer...

        Seriously, an internet provider that cannot be reached by email, that's... strange (mildly put).

      2. Magani
        Linux

        Re: Garbage in garbage out

        ...with a link to a help forum that is usually no help at all.

        I see you've been to Microsoft's site.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Garbage in garbage out

        I doubt if that figure would be for 'people asked', more likely that 70% of people will end up interacting with a bot, whether they liked/realised or not

    2. Sub 20 Pilot

      Re: Garbage in garbage out

      I have yet to see an useful ''chatbot.'' In the last few months I have had , in desperation, to revert to trying out the respective option on Ryanair and SP Energy websites due to there being no other way of finding what I wanted or indeed a sensible method of contacting a bloody human. Nothing you put in the text box made sense to the algorithm.

      OK I expected it with Ryanair as I wanted money back from them so no fucking chance that was going to work but with SPE it was putting £20k plus their way for an upgraded supply so I would have thought that ''I want to give you money for something'' would have led to a pretty good response.

      Previously in the last year I have had the same while trying to spend money with Samsung, Dell and ( in desperation ) Carphone warehouse. The end result of which none of them got my money as they couldn't be arsed to provide a human to sort out a few basic queries.

      This is still roughly the same level it was years ago so what is the problem and where is the bottleneck ?

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: Garbage in garbage out

        I never had any luck trying to buy a custom spec computer system from Dell. Years ago when I first tried I had a query but they went out of their way to avoid human interaction. Finally found an email address for them and I got a reply back from a bot with a 16 page reply with various possible answers to my question; none of which answered it and some were quite laughable. They didn't get my order. I though to myself "If this is their pre-sales support I wonder what their post-sales support is like?"

        A few years later while living in France I wanted a custom built computer with UK Windows, keyboard etc. Went right through all the specification details blah, blah, blah and a couple of hours later "Sorry we can't deliver to France." Went through the process again with Dell France but couldn't have a computer with UK Windows and keyboard. I gave up on Dell in the end. They just aren't customer oriented.

        1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

          Re: Garbage in garbage out

          "I gave up on Dell in the end. They just aren't customer oriented."

          Pray tell who you did go through? I haven't found anyone "better".

  8. trashsilo
    Childcatcher

    I'll be straight back.

    "...we advise our customers to let people know they are talking to a bot"

    Surely there is an ethical 'need' to let people know they are talking to a bot ?

    Just imagine those poor abusive customers. They will be flat out abusive, crude, lewd or worse and then suddenly hit the wall with these call bots.

    Begs the age old question, When is a bot pretending to be a person, a person ?

    In the eyes of [Turing|Person|$Law$].

    Again very <del>RED</del><ins>UNDER</ins>HANDED

  9. chivo243 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Humans at Google?

    Naw, you must be mistaken, there hasn't been a human at Google for quite some time...

  10. Evil Scot

    Hell no.

    My interaction with google over a week.

    Monday

    Google : Are you going to work.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Turn Left onto....

    Google : Are you going home.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Perform a U-turn....

    Tuesday

    Google : Are you going to work.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Turn Left onto....

    Google : Are you going home.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Perform a U-turn....

    Wednesday

    Google : Are you going to work.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Turn Left onto....

    Google : Are you going home.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Perform a U-turn....

    Thursday

    Google : Are you going to work.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Turn Left onto....

    Google : Are you going home.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Perform a U-turn....

    Friday

    Google : Are you going to work.

    Me : Yes.

    Google: Please wait.. Turn Left onto....

    Google : Are you going to the YMCA.

    Me : ... FFS Google!!!!! That is -ing protected category data!!!!!

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Hell no.

      You think Boris has an Android phone then?

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Bollocks

    "customers will prefer to use speech interfaces "

    Given that we don't have the choice, I really wonder where Google is pulling that notion from.

    I don't mind being given a choice between four possibilities, as long as the last one is "TALK TO AN ACTUAL HUMAN BEING" (with a brain, preferably).

    I perfectly understand that there are very common issues that can be efficiently solved by pressing button 1, 2 or 3, but if your phone talky thingy is the only choice I have to contact you, then you had damn well better have some human operators for dealing with the edge cases your bunch of stupid managers forgot to plan for.

  12. osakajin Bronze badge

    Well there goes any form of truth. Doesn't matter about ethical review. In 5 years this will be commodity and everyone will be able to use it. I think I see a gap in the market for a type is small premises staffed by humans that are local and know you and you know them who can do things like arrange insurance or travel or banking and you won't have a problem with identity theft or false information... Can't quite think what to call this idea...

  13. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    But ... woke ...

    Google's bot self-identifies as human, so you're not allowed to discriminate ...

  14. IGotOut Silver badge

    Google promoting this?

    Having battled with Googles script monkeys, sorry, support teams, getting this bot up to those standards, is a pretty low bar.

  15. doublelayer Silver badge

    I can answer the article's question

    "Google's criteria for ethical use and how it will prevent misuse was not stated."

    However, I have access to some documents which should make them clear. Here is their ethical review form:

    Your name:

    Purpose of your use of the system:

    Credit card number:

    How much credit would you like applied to your account (note: this credit is nonrefundable):

    Urgency of your request:

    And this is the misuse form letter:

    We have received a notice that your usage of the system is considered misuse. Your account has been closed to prevent you from continuing to misuse. If you wish to continue to use these features, please submit a request for appeal within your account dashboard. We ask you not to create a new account as we are currently unable to process appeals between accounts for privacy reasons; information connected to one account cannot be attached to another one. [Wink wink]

  16. David Austin

    Triage

    I recognise as tecchies, we probably try a bit better to fix things ourselves, so by the time we're calling the telephone line, we're well past anything the automated systems can handle.

    I don't like it, but I can see the usefulness in running triage on the incoming calls: It's the next step on from the automation bot that tries to point you at a KB or FAQ before letting you talk to a meatsack.

    1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: Triage

      I recognise as tecchies, we probably try a bit better to fix things ourselves, so by the time we're calling the telephone line, we're well past anything the automated systems can handle.

      But maybe the bots can implement "Shibboleet"?

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Triage

      Triage is just one more step in reaching a resolution, as providers of a service, anyone should have a duty of care to resolve user's and customer's problems.

      What should be in place given the enormous size and profits made by these people, is a team of adequately trained humans who, if they are unable to help you can refer you to the next stage.

      Ninety percent of this is about reluctantly providing customer service when all the companies want is for you to give them money and then fuck off until the next time you want to give them money. Hence the usual 'Frequently asked questions' as the entrance to a rabbit hole full of futility.

  17. C. P. Cosgrove
    Facepalm

    And . . .why ?

    And just why are Google developing this ? They have no intention of using it. Machine or human, you cannot get a response from Google in any case, but then most of the people I see who cannot get any help for Google problems are, of course, not customers, they are part of the product.

    Chris Cosgrove

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: And . . .why ?

      If they can get it good enough to convince someone with a big call center, the business will fire half the call center workers and put that money Google's way. Then the businesspeople who heard the demo won't ever call said call center, so they'll never hear how well or badly it does in real usage. Then Google can show the same convincing demo to other businesses and cite that one as a proven success story.

    2. trashsilo
      Unhappy

      Re: And . . .why ?

      Maybe because of all those granted, enforceable patents they have. About 31 patents for this stuff granted since Jan this year, 7 in August 2020 alone.

      Becoming ever clearer who AI will ultimately 'belong' to.

      What about my voice, understand that can't be copyrighted yet, though they hold the rights on the recordings of course.

  18. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Devil

    ... and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which

    And eventually all their sought for 'customers' wishful to speak to bots, will be bots also...

  19. Imhotep Silver badge

    It's Not Paranoia If They're Really Out To Get You

    My AI bot phones in all my support calls. Lately it's begun picking up calls too, and I don't even deal with a company called Skynet. I just have a bad feeling....

  20. Mike 137 Silver badge

    A rather limited criterion

    "to be 'close enough' that you can't tell it's a bot talking"

    More to the point should be "that you can't tell it's a bot answering"

    The real trick is to demonstrate intelligence so the responses make sense, regardless of the question.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google are useless at both human interaction and AI

    - Google are useless at human interaction; they go out of their way to automate absolutely everything they can.

    - And when they do, their AI sucks at it (eg YouTube moderation or voice assistant).

    Given those two facts, it's time people started calling bullshit and telling them where to go, before they help wipe out even more jobs and suck even more money back up to the billionaires.

    The whole automation-for-scale thing has been shown to be impossible for them to do properly, and it is rotten rent-seeking to it's core.

  22. Il'Geller

    Ilya Geller

    As I said, AI is something that understands and can speak.

  23. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Meanwhile, in other absolutely fabulous fabless labs .....

    'We're not claiming to replace humans,' says Google, but we want to be 'close enough' that you can't tell it's a bot talking

    Methinks that hurdle and threshold was passed quite some time ago, with the one being too often enough so easily mistaken for the other to not already be an ACTive tool, both virtual and practical, for more general use and greater exploitation.

    Indeed, El Reg may even host evidence of such a stealthy advance and silent enhancement ....... https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2020/09/04/linux_kernel_flaws/#c_4103006

    Google may just be late to the party and trailing way behind in trials of that particular peculiar utility/facility/discipline. The real risk that they run inviting is their being just too late to the party to be in a way major instrumental in leading its future direction .... and thus always to be following and searching for novel news about recently discovered views and readily available revolutionary abilities.

  24. sitta_europea

    My postillion has been struck by lightning!

    1. Fr. Ted Crilly

      My hovercraft is full of eels...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I put on my robe and wizard hat

    See title

  26. Flywheel Silver badge
    Stop

    Google .. mining the data .. ethical

    Yeah, right!

  27. Sherrie Ludwig
    Headmaster

    My mother was frightened by a prehistoric thesaurus....

    In the future, my bot will phone in, repeating the words, "I need to speak to an agent, a representative" while on speakerphone, and when a harrassed sounding voice picks up, I will pick up. If I have had to phone the company, I will have a problem sufficiently arcane that I have extirpated all other attempts to ameliorate it, and is often the result of some guddling about that the company has done previously to try to make the issue "better", entangling it further. My vocabulary is extensive, and I have ferreted out chatbots by employing it. They cannot contextualize if enough polysyllabic words are distributed throughout.

  28. X5-332960073452
    Megaphone

    Demolition Man - 1993

    Greetings and salutations. Welcome to the emergency line of the San Angeles Police Department. If you'd prefer an automated response, press 1 now.

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