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What to do when Google robots call and talk to you

(TECH) Google Duplex is an AI suite which can call businesses to schedule appointments and someday more – what should you do when the robots call you?

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In yet another instance of the machines winning, Google recently released a demo of Google Duplex — an automated calling suite — which showcased the software completing calls to schedule appointments on behalf of a user:

Duplex, which will soon be bundled into Google Assistant, sounds uncannily natural; when completing a phone call, the AI can handle and react to unclear instructions such as long pauses, deviations from the conversation’s topic, being placed on hold, and being asked to repeat itself. While the main two calls released by Google only show Duplex operating in two venues (a restaurant and a hair salon) Google plans to implement Duplex across multiple platforms eventually.

That means you may start getting calls from Google – we’ll get to that in a bit…

Having the conversation sound as natural as possible was a key point for Google. Since most conversations with AI assistants tend to feel jarring and forced — especially from the AI side — it was clearly important for Duplex to feel as inviting and human as possible. This is evident from Google’s inclusion of various hesitations (e.g., “um”) and variations in the language used by Duplex.

Timing is another critical component of Duplex’s mannerisms.

While many AI assistants have uniform timing between specific conversational segments (such as sentences), Duplex pauses almost intimately, and its reactions to new information sound realistic enough. Between Duplex’s timing and the “flawed” mannerisms mentioned above, the AI represents a tremendous step forward for the human-facing side of AI.

Keep in mind that the AI currently has some limitations regarding its conversational abilities; it seems that Google’s strategy was more based around fleshing out a few specific scenarios and expanding the AI’s conversational options within them than allowing the AI to run wild with limited conversational depth. Eventually, though, Duplex will most likely be much more capable than it is now.

For example, as of now, a Google Assistant user might feasibly ask Duplex to schedule a restaurant reservation or inquire about busy hours. However, future renditions of Duplex may comprise tasks such as scheduling a vehicle repair, ordering take-out, calling an Uber, and more. Like calling to set up a house showing, even though you already have a button for that on your site, can do it via email or app, and pay for a service to manage all of this (the consumer cares about their convenience, not yours).

So what happens when your phone rings and it’s a robot?!

For now, Google Duplex isn’t selling leads, they’re simply launching the beta test as a scheduler, which we all know will become more complex in the future. But let’s say someone tries this during beta test: “Hey Google, call Ron Thompson at Century 21 in Dallas and schedule a home tour for tomorrow at 2pm.”

What is Ron going to do when a robot calls and they don’t know who the client is, hasn’t prequalified them, doesn’t know where they want to take tours, and also doesn’t understand he’s talking to a robot? The call is going to fail and Ron isn’t going to get the lead.

Perhaps the client will move on to the next person, or perhaps they’ll understand that their request takes more human intelligence than a robot can provide.

But more importantly, how should you react when you get your first call from a robot? Just behave normally. Speak naturally and normally, and if you can help, do it, but if you can’t, make it clear why. The information won’t necessarily make it to the client, but calls are recorded and AI learns through these instances over time.

Don’t speak slowly as if you’re talking into a speech-to-text app, just speak normally and answer questions clearly for now. You may not set that appointment because it’s unsafe to do so without pre-qualifications, but you can set the appointment with the robot and immediately send prequal questions to the clients via text. That’s a win-win.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Real Estate Technology

IBM’s first commercial quantum computer means the future is HERE

(TECHNOLOGY) IBM announcing they’re selling quantum computing means technology innovation is about to accelerate at a breakneck speed.

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IBM unveiled the first commercially available quantum computer at CES 2019 last week and our brains are exploding!

Named the IBM Q System One, this is the first approximate quantum computing system available for business enterprises and scientific research. The arrival of a workable quantum computer has been expected for some time, and this announcement proves the future is here. Buckle up.

Quantum computing is vastly more powerful than the classical computing we’re used to in our phones, tablets, and laptops. In short, classical computers use a binary system of 0s and 1s to express information.

Quantum computing uses qubits that are able to be in multiple states at any given time that increases processing power exponentially. Since systems in the natural world are based in quantum mechanics, having computers that can also work compatibly with those systems will make a huge difference in fields like pharmaceuticals, transportation, finances, and artificial intelligence.

IBM Q System One is a 20-quibit system combining both quantum and classical computing components. Although 20-qubits is short of predicted capabilities, it would give companies the means to run complex experiments outside of a research lab.

It has the capacity to upgrade as IBM releases new developments. If other companies are able to use this tech, then it will also speed up the possibilities/need to add improvements. We can expect to see exciting tech news in the coming years.

Previous glimpses of quantum computers in development have shown large and bulky monstrosities tangled in wires and connected to cooling systems. IBM Q System One is designed as one sleek, compact package: a black case hanging from the ceiling of a sealed 9’ x 9’ case of borosilicate glass. Clearly IBM isn’t messing around—anyone having flashbacks to the iPhone announcement of 2007?

Companies will need to work with IBM directly in order to buy their own IBM Q System One. We can only wait and hope for the day when this big boy is more widely available. Seeing as how computers haven’t been around long in the first place, our wait will likely be shorter than you think.

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Real Estate Technology

FCC rule change should make you want to stop text messaging

(TECHNOLOGY) The rules have changed when it comes to text messaging and your privacy is now at risk – time to reconsider your habits.

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Most of us take for granted that we can send and receive text messages with whomever we want, and that these messages are private and secure. But a new rule change prompted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gives your wireless company the right to monitor and even block your text messages.

The rule change is the result of an FCC vote that took place at the end of the year, which reclassified SMS and MMS text messages as “information services” instead of “telecommunication services,” and thus, subject to different rules under the Communications Act.

This change is comparable to the FCC’s earlier reclassification of broadband internet providers as Title I information services, a change that stripped the FCC of its ability to provide oversight to ensure net neutrality.

And indeed, this latest rule-change has brought up similar concerns over neutrality, privacy, and the downside of giving corporations unchecked power over our communications and access to information.

The FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, are celebrating the change as a positive step towards reducing SPAM and robotexting.

Pai told CNET, “we shouldn’t allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services.”

When the FCC reclassified broadband carriers, critics argued that this threatened net neutrality by giving ISPs the ability to block content and create paid “fast lanes.”

These concerns are echoed in regards to the text messaging rule change.

In a letter to Pai ahead of the vote, Democratic senators wrote that wireless carriers would be able to force customers “to pay for more expensive short code system or enterprise text messaging to reach their audience.” Democrats also say that the rule change gives wireless providers the power to curb free speech by censoring or blocking “legal text messages if they believe that the content is controversial.” For example, in 2007, Verizon blocked NARAL Pro Choice America from sending messages to its supporters.

As only three percent of text messages are classified as SPAM, critics of the rule change feel that the sacrificing free speech and messaging neutrality for the sake of reducing unwanted messages is too high a price to pay.

Senator Markey of Massachussetts condemned the decision, saying that the FCC was failing in its “obligation to promote competition and freedom of speech over telecommunication networks.”

Iphone users texting one another using iMessage will be unaffected, as iMessage does not use SMS or MMS.

All other text messages are potentially subject to the rule change. Gizmodo recommends using the Signal app, which encrypts messages and isn’t subject to the same rules as wireless providers.

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Real Estate Technology

Hackers target associations – how to protect your brokerage, yourself

(TECHNOLOGY) Hackers are increasingly targeting associations, and while they set their own policies to protect themselves, here’s how to do the same for you and your company.

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It all seemed so routine. For officials of both the Henderson (TX) and Boulder Valley(CO) public school districts, the email that they received from an existing construction vendor asking them to update their automated payments to new bank information was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary.

Only when vendors began to inquire about the status of payments that the districts had sent did the districts come to realize that the routine change had made themselves the victims of a scam known as a BEC, or a Business Email Compromise.

In each case, the losses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before being discovered. Henderson ISD lost approximately $610,000 to the hackers and Boulder Valley Public Schools lost approximately $870,000. The fiscal hit was accompanied by reviews of and changes to their operating procedures to ensure that such a loss wouldn’t happen again in the future.

While the districts tied their losses to public transparency, with information about the vendors and the scope of work that each was involved with available on their websites, government officials said that such schemes are typically quite sophisticated and ongoing long before any request for money, in order to establish a level of trust with their victims.

Secret Service Agent Bill Mack, speaking to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, noted that “[w]e’ve seen an uptick in the number of cases…Contact is often made long before the request for money. Criminals will use a compromised network to gather information about the target. Then, appearing to be a legitimate representative of the vendor, they will often request a simple change in account numbers.

With FBI estimates as to the annual cost of cybercrime reaching over $2 billion dollars annually, and those losses only partially recovered through either the efforts of law enforcement or insurance, it’s important to recognize the fact that as scammers and hackers expand beyond the tired trope of the 419/Nigerian Prince, they’re now targeting new avenues, such as governmental entities and private associations (perhaps even your local real estate board/association).

While professional associations have been the targets of hackers since at least 2010, according to Ed Schipul, they’re coming under increasing levels of attack.

As a professional member of an organization, we depend on their advice, counsel, and information about upcoming trends and events. We rely on the communication that we receive from them to be timely, accurate, and most importantly, not be harmful to us, professionally or personally.

Assuming that the associations themselves are taking steps to protect their cybersecurity, how do we, as members protect ourselves from hackers?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has tips on staying safe from hackers in an ever-connected world:

• Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.
• Only open emails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
• Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
• Verify the validity of a suspicious-looking email or a pop-up box before providing personal information.
• Don’t immediately open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited or suspicious-looking emails.
• Install good anti-virus software that periodically runs to search for and remove malware.
• Be diligent about using spam (junk mail) filters provided by your email provider.
• Don’t visit untrusted websites and don’t believe everything you read.
• Criminals might create fake websites and pop-ups with enticing messages intended to draw you in and download malware.

In the case of officials at the districts, one measure that was implemented in each is worth remembering in a click-and-send era; they promised to have their respective staffs pick up the phone and call the vendor when any type of banking information was requested, to verify the request before providing information.

When dealing with our associations, if we receive an email or other outreach that seems out of character for them, it’s a good reminder to call and ask them if they’d intended to send it out before we take electronic action.

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