Did Google Fake its AI Demo? A Lesson for Employer Communications

If you’re a nerd or just a casual technology news consumer, you might have heard about the recent live Google Duplex demo with the company’s CEO. In essence, the technology will assist you with those mundane or annoying times when you need to schedule an appointment. Simply tell your device to schedule an appointment for you and it will take care of the whole thing, phone call, scheduling, and all.

Sounds amazing, right? But following the demo, journalists began asking questions of Google. Here’s an article that tipped me off to the issue:

The demo was indeed impressive…  But is it possible that the promise of Google's advanced artificial-intelligence tech is too good to be true? As Axios noted Thursday morning, there was something a little off in the conversations the A.I. had on the phone with businesses, suggesting that perhaps Google had faked, or at least edited, its demo.

Unlike a typical business (Axios called more than two dozen hair salons and restaurants), the employees who answered the phone in Google's demos don't identify the name of the business, or themselves. Nor is there any ambient noise in Google's recordings, as one would expect in a hair salon or a restaurant. At no point in Google's conversations with the businesses did the employees who answered the phone ask for the phone number or other contact information from the A.I.

Further, California is a two-party consent state, meaning that both parties need to consent in order for a phone conversation to be legally recorded. Did Google seek the permission of these businesses before calling them for the purposes of the demo? Was it staged in the simulated manner of reality TV? (Source: Vanity Fair)

Lessons for the Workplace

employer communicationsLet’s set aside the debate for now about whether they did or didn’t fake it and instead look at how Google has responded to the questions/criticism. The real issue is that Google has been unresponsive to numerous requests from various sources trying to find answers to these questions. Back to Vanity Fair:

Google isn't saying. When Axios reached out for comment to verify that the businesses existed, and that the calls weren't set up in advance, a spokesperson declined to provide names of the establishments; when Axios asked if the calls were edited (even just to cut out the name of the business, to avoid unwanted attention), Google also declined to comment. The company did not immediately respond to a series of questions from the Hive.

The lesson for the rest of us? In the absence of communication, people will believe anything even remotely plausible. In fact, they’ll sometimes believe things that they would otherwise consider totally crazy. It all depends on the volume and variety of information they receive from their leaders. Here are two quick examples:

  • In my piece on why Uber drivers were cheating their scheduling and payment algorithms, I explained some of the ways those individuals fought back against the firm’s rigid policies. The workers didn’t like having a faceless algorithm managing and tracking their every move without a way to have a two-way conversation. I actually write about this concept in the AI for HR book because it’s a cautionary tale for employers not to go too far with algorithms.
  • I wrote a paper recently on compensation transparency and how employers can adopt a more transparent approach (with some practical advice). At the end of the day, workers that feel like their employer isn’t sharing information with them will assume that their peers earn more or that they are getting an unfair deal. By being more transparent about compensation strategy and processes employers can have a more productive dialogue with workers on pay.

What takeaways did you get from today’s discussion (other than the fact that you’re pumped about Google Duplex scheduling your next hair appointment)?