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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

Should digital assistants have empathy? Big investors say yes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Bonding with your digital assistant might be more likely than you expect with ElliQ. The rising numbers of AI assistants have created unique interactions.

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ElliQ assistant

It sounds crazy to think that you could form an actual bond with something like Siri or Alexa, but actually, humans are pretty dang good at forming emotional connections to machines. For instance, a Canadian company threw an entire retirement party for five mail delivery bots. People will use Roombas as a substitute for companionship, not unlike a cat or dog. Humans just seem to enjoy connection – even if it’s with a lifeless robot.

Intuition Robotics is taking this desire for emotional connection a step further by working to create digital assistants that can more easily bond with their human companions. At the moment, their biggest product is ElliQ, a robotic digital assistant designed to bond with eldery users. In fact, according to Intuition Robotics, their average demographic falls between ages 78 – 97.

And ElliQ seems to be doing its job. The company reports that customers interact with ElliQ regularly throughout the day, even holding conversations with the machine, and are more likely to listen to ElliQ’s suggestions, which often include proactive behavior like getting outdoors or eating more vegetables.

By working to create a more empathetic and emotional digital AI, Intuition Robotics has started to discover a whole world of new possibilities. And they’re just getting started, having recently raised another $36 million to continue research.

One of their plans? Combining these empathetic digital assistants with the automotive industry.

Imagine an assistant that could suggest you pull over when it senses you’re getting drowsy, or provide something to talk to during longer drives. Plus, unlike ElliQ, which stays put while you move around, you and the assistant will be together in a car, making it easier for the AI to learn your preferences and habits.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Intuition Robotics, which has recently majorly expanded its workforce. A digital assistant that can provide a better emotional connection to humans has a world of possible applications, from nursing homes to elementary schools.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about a more empathetic AI – the marketing capabilities alone are something I’m side-eyeing. That said, humans have been befriending vacuum cleaners and we’ve turned out alright, so for now, let’s focus on the positive possibilities that could come with tech from companies like Intuition Robotics.

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Real Estate Technology

Private browsing will be pushed into the mainstream this fall – ready?

(TECHNOLOGY) Private browsing is making strides, and your entire company should be pushing for all teams to use the new features.

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Browser privacy is at the forefront of many consumers’ concerns in a digitally advanced world, so it’s no surprise that companies like Apple and Firefox are expanding their browsing features to encompass more aggressive privacy options. According to Digiday, that push will happen early this fall.

A private browsing company called Neeva will also feature in this fall endeavor, encouraging a shift to their product (an ad-free, subscription-based browser) alongside Apple and Firefox. Neeva would theoretically charge a “minimum” of four dollars per month, allowing users to experience a much more private web browsing experience for far less than the abstract cost of more traditional options.

Neeva’s fundraising fervor can be, in part, attributed to the success of Brave, a similarly privacy-focused browser that makes use of Tor to protect unwitting users from unfriendly data inquiries.

Apple’s foray into more extreme privacy options comes in the form of “Apple Private Relay,” which is a feature that can prevent websites from viewing the identity of a visitor.

Firefox’s approach is a bit more platform-centered, with its initiatives including more active showcasing of its built-in VPN and safety features.

Digiday acknowledges that privacy-forward browsing has been available for years, but it tends to reside “mostly on the fringes of society,” with browsers like Tor succumbing to slow load times and stereotypes regarding things like criminal activity and a disproportionately high conspiracy theorist population.

But data privacy is extremely important, now more than ever – and dispelling those stereotypes in favor of education is crucial if the public is going to shift away from browsers and browsing habits that, respectively, look pretty and feel convenient while continuing to endanger and victimize consumers.

For a company like Apple to be moving toward an increase in privacy feels like a paradigm shift – if for no other reason than when Apple makes moves, everyone else tends to sit up and pay attention. Firefox’s push may be a little less surprising given the features built into the browser, but the timing isn’t a coincidence.

Private browsing, at least to those who know it best, has mainstream value, and it’s on its way.

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Real Estate Technology

Secret list of reasons why your Facebook ad was rejected

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Save your marketing team time with this secret list of Facebook ad rejection reasons.

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You read the rules, spent time optimizing target audience, double checked all the visual elements, and your Facebook ad is finally ready to go to market. You’re expecting the latest email from Facebook to be about billing details, and instead receive the dreaded (albeit common) rejection letter.

You’re left wondering how your your content have possibly violated the Community Standards. Turns out text like “Meet other seniors” or “Depression getting you down?” violates a “personal attributes” rule.

Directly addressing the user with terms like “you” or implications about identity like age, race, and gender aren’t permitted. So you remove that, only to find your ad rejected from the ad auction once again. There are hundreds of reasons the site can reject your ad.

You can quite literally spend hours pouring over Facebook’s Advertising policies, but we have a shortcut – Jane Manchun Wong put has together the most extensive list we’ve ever seen (click to enlarge).

facebook ad rejection reasons

Understandably, illegal content is rejected. You won’t find ads for drugs or counterfeiting services. Likewise, anything even kind of sexual or potentially offensive (like someone flipping the middle finger) violates the standards. No ads for mail order brides or anything the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would regulate either.

Okay, so obviously you can’t advertise illegal things on the mainstream internet. Especially not when Facebook is asking users to respond to surveys about if the company is good for the world.

However, there’s some grey area once you move past obviously unacceptable content. QR codes, a popular ad novelty, are a reason for rejection. Likewise, if your ad features a picture of Mark Zuckerberg, it’ll get slapped down.

Feel like mentioning the spy cameras? Nope. Have an ad about lasers? Nah. Animals? DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Oddly enough, Instagram references aren’t allowed either even though Facebook owns the company.

Although Facebook is trying to uphold their values about safety, voice, and equity, enforcement of these principles is often flawed.

Bra and underwear retailers struggle to get their ads approved even if the content is not sexual in nature. An ad by Harper Wilde, an online bra startup, featuring a plain bra on a colored background was rejected on the grounds that the link leads to a site featuring adult content.

Since Facebook rejects anything focused on a single body part or that is too zoomed in, exposed bodies on an underwear site certainly violate the terms. While Facebook is attempting to hold up a moral code of not offending users, implementation isn’t consistent.

Although Facebook technically has a link to appeal disapproved ads, users report the link is either broken, or returns an auto-generated response with no way to follow up with a person.

We can certainly appreciate that Facebook now bans the obnoxious “before-after” gifs of someone’s belly fat disappearing to the backdrop of a tape measure, and rejects blatantly offensive material.

facebook ad acceptable

Attempting to provide higher quality content that doesn’t shame or offend users is a noble goal.

But when everyday products can’t be advertised, and robots are enforcing grey area, it’s time for a better appeals process. At least now you know what not to include in your next Facebook ad, even if it is legit.

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