Human or Machine?

Alexa or Google Home can play games with you. One game, Human or Machine, by KQED, asks players to decide whether voices are human or machine. Just ask Alexa, “Open Human or Machine.”

Full disclosure: we got it right just about half the time.

The fact is, machine voices are getting very good at sounding human. Google’s assistant can even hold conversations that sound quite human.

AlexisMadrigal · Google Duplex scheduling a hair salon appointment


Tech reporter Bridget Carey found this alarming. “I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeak and other quirks of language,” she said, copying the bot’s question:. “Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?”

“If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can’t tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it’s right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot,” said Carey.

Programming a bot to say “um” is clearly an action with just one motivation — namely, to trick the human speaking to the bot. The bot is not thinking about what to say next, and hasn’t developed the habit of saying, “um.” The point is just to deceive.

What’s the point of the deception?

But why would you program a robot to trick people into thinking it was human? One very good reason would be to keep people on the line talking to a bot. Most people will hang up as soon as they realize they’ve received a robocall. They don’t want to listen to a sales pitch from anyone, and certainly not from a machine.

But people will hang on through a lot more of a sales pitch if they think the alternative is to be rude to a human being.

Industrial robot voices

Industrial robots don’t generally have voices. They don’t usually talk. They could, though. Voice-controlled robots are becoming popular, at least in theory. A machine that would alert you to its needs the way your robot vacuum cleaner does could be handy.

Granted, there are a lot of differences among the voices and speech patterns of various robovac. Do you want your CNC machine to say, “Help me!” in a tinny voice when it feels a jam coming on? Would you prefer to have your Rexroth servo drive sing out error codes instead of just showing them in a visual interface?

Talking industrial robots are not out of the question, and they may be part of our future. In the meantime, we can help when your Rexroth drive and control systems need service. We offer factory repair and reman, as well as emergency replacement units to get you back up and running fast.



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