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If you live on Planet Earth you have probably heard that this time last week Google launched its new – and ultra human-like – version of its personal assistant feature: Google Assistant. In a video that went viral at the speed of sound, we watch Google’s Assistant, a bot, making phone calls to real people, and having detailed, nuanced, tone appropriate conversations – in other words, sounding completely human – with the oblivious actual humans on the other end of the line. Mind-blowing stuff.

(If you haven’t yet watched the video, you can watch it here).

The internet, of course, went crazy. Some people thought it was the best thing they had ever seen, some people were outraged by Google and the lack of ethics still present in the Silicon Valley and some people, like me, were simply speechless.

Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina and technology columnist at The New York Times used Twitter to say that “Google Assistant making calls pretending to be human not only without disclosing that it’s a bot, but adding ‘ummm’ and ‘aaah’ to deceive the human on the other end with the room cheering it… horrifying. Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing”.

Stephen Aquino, a disabled technology journalist, tweeted: “Re: Google Duplex, it’s worth noting the positive effect it could have on accessibility. As a stutterer, talking on the phone – whether to family, friends, PR folks, whoever – gives me great anxiety. AI-driven calls could greatly alleviate those feelings”.

I could go on for hours listing everything that amazes me in Google’s AI developments and everything about it that frightens me to death, but regardless of how I feel about it, the technology is here to stay and even if people don’t quite understand it, agree with it or accept it, they definitely cannot deny it.

It is natural to feel uneasy about the gigantic role AI has rapidly taken in our daily lives and Google’s “perfect fake human” is the confirmation of the path we are taking as a society. The question now is not “How do we hide from the technology we created?” but rather “How can we progress alongside technology and use it in favour of a future scenario that is desirable to us humans?”.

The answer to such question is undeniable: Design Thinking. The thought of designing a technological society where people remain in the centre of every problem makes me a lot less scared of what is to come; in fact, it makes me excited about it. In a human-centred society, we don’t only coexist with technology, we also use it in favour of our human needs, which is the whole reason technology was created in the first place.

A society model in which we don’t have the ability to differentiate machines from people is already here, so there is no time like the present for us to realise that the only way our future will remain in our hands is if we design it ourselves to look exactly how we want, bot phone calls and all.

Rani Ghazzaoui Luke

Rani is a writer and actor based in Sydney, Australia. She is Echos Head of Content & Communications, and the Editor in Chief of The Echos Newsletter.

Before joining Echos, she worked in full-service advertising agencies as a copywriter, moved onto writing for Broadcast Media, and landed on Digital Media, working first as a Digital Producer and later as a Digital Account Manager. Most recently, she was Lead Client Solutions Manager for GumGum Inc, an ad tech company specialised in Artificial Intelligence.

Rani is a highly curious individual that believes creativity and innovation are the most important tools to propel any person or business forward.

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