Google Duplex and the (Wholly Exaggerated) Death of the Sales Rep

In many ways, Google Duplex is very impressive. The ability to replicate natural language is startlingly good compared to both Siri and Alexa. But that pales in comparison to its ability to understand what is being said well enough to conduct a simple business transaction. And that is what it did, it conducted a simple business transaction, as it was designed to do.

Naturally, the Henny Penny class on LinkedIn immediately decided that this technology spells the end of the salesperson, their role now being easily outsourced to the much more dependable technological solution. I suspect that the technology will get exponentially better—and will develop fast from this point. But there are some applications for which it will not do nearly as well as human beings. So, if you are afraid the sky is falling, rest easy.

There is a difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is about the preservation of energy. Effectiveness is about producing a certain result. Regarding human relationships, effectiveness is better than efficiency. To schedule an appointment, technology is terrific.

The scheduling of an appointment is a transaction. The development of trust is not. If you want to schedule an appointment, a digital assistant is just the thing. If you want to convince someone that you are the right person to help them achieve an outcome they have heretofore never considered, technology is not the right choice, the first being a question of efficiency, the second being one of effectiveness.

The ability to choose the proper response to a question or prompt is a transaction. Meaning what you say and saying what you mean is not. There are people who can say the right thing to a prompt or a question. They may or may not mean what they say. The doubt that exists is human, and our ability to recognize incongruity in one’s words has been finely tuned over thousands of years.

The ability to successfully complete an exchange of value, i.e. a sale, is a transaction. The ability for you to help another person recognize that you care about them and their outcome is not. A computer programmed voice is efficient. A person who spends time with you to make sure you get what you really want and need is more concerned with their effectiveness in helping you.

The ability to choose from a range of options that an algorithm selects as being appropriate is a transaction. The ability to generate new ideas and options, novelty, if you will, is not. Resourcefulness belongs to human beings. As does imagination (including the imagination necessary to build these new technologies).

The ability to mimic a human being is not the same as being human. It’s a transaction.

Are you more likely to trust a computer that has been designed to make you believe it is a person concerned with your wants and needs than a human being? Will you prefer to buy something from an algorithm that has been designed to exploit its knowledge of you to convince you to make a purchase?

Digital machines are not likely to replace humans at the things that make us uniquely human.

A machine doesn’t know what it means to fear. It doesn’t know what it means to feel a sense of loss. It has no perception of what trust is or why it is important. It isn’t thoughtful, and it will not care about you, because it is not capable of caring. It doesn’t know joy or pain or hope or dread. You are not going to have a machine come to the hospital to hold your hand when you are ill.

I will be the first to adopt all technologies that allow me to increase my efficiency in the things that are transactional in nature. But where human relationships are at stake, I will choose effectiveness, believing that high value, high trust, and high caring win out against transactions—even when the technology is a novelty. Nothing will ever be more human than human.

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