Search giant Google has revealed plans to create a new AI bot capable of ‘natural’ speech – with the view to making it difficult (if not impossible) for the general public to ascertain whether there’s a machine or a human on the other side.

The Turing Test has long been held as a benchmark of whether computer programs can be officially labelled ‘intelligent’. It posits that a machine is truly intelligent if its responses are completely indistinguishable to that of a real person. Numerous companies have tried to develop technology capable of passing the test, and now Google has joined the cause.

‘Duplex’ is Google’s foray into the world of Turing Test-worthy devices. It aims to replicate the erratic and colloquialised patterns that betray speech patterns as being human. By using these less efficient communication techniques, Google claims, real people will still be able to have flowing and productive conversations with AI technology, but do so without even realising they aren’t speaking to another person.

Google unveiled Duplex during the Keynote Speech at its I/O conference. During the presentation, delegates were played two clips, each of roughly a minute in length. The first involved a conversation to book a hair appointment (involving some back-and-fore to find a suitable date), whilst the second was a restaurant booking (in which one of the participants had a heavy accent and wasn’t providing adequate information, requiring the other to change tack). Google’s twist was that it wasn’t just one voice on each conversation that belonged to a robot, but both; all four voices were AI powered.

Its success at fooling many delegates can be attributed to the inclusion of speech patterns that most people would find familiar but which haven’t yet been introduced into AI communication (such as saying “umm”, “ohh” and the upward inflection that comes when asking a question).

Among those at the conference was John Havens, executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. He told “The technology is remarkable. I showed [the demo video] to my wife and she said, ‘Which one’s real?’ And there lies the rub.”

Google plans to begin public testing of Duplex this summer.