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Circuit Breaker

How close is Google to building a Paul?

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Graphics by Michele Doying / The Verge

As someone who recently got a haircut, Google’s presentation yesterday at I/O really resonated with me. Finally, a service that can make phone calls on my behalf and negotiate appointment times with hair salons.

Google’s Duplex technology even uses the word “um” and sometimes misunderstands what people on the phone are talking about. Just like me!

It got me thinking: how close is Google to replacing me altogether?

For instance, Google can already write most of my text messages, and now it can help compose for me. Could it write my Verge articles, too?

My ego would like me to believe that my writing process is a little more complicated than a Markov chain.

For instance, I often Google things for research.

I try to synthesize news from multiple sources.

And, of course, I like to pepper in personal anecdotes from places I’ve been, people I’ve talked to, songs I’ve heard, and books (synopses) I’ve read.

Oh, right. Google knows everything I search for, click on, and point my phone camera at.

At least Google can’t emulate my tone of voice, right? That’s just a Baidu thing? My spot on The Vergecast is safe?

Well, shit.

I can drive a car. Google can drive a car. I like to remind my nieces and nephews to be polite. Google can remind kids to be polite. Sometimes I remember to call my sister. Google knows when I’m most likely to call my sister.

If Google bought Boston Dynamics (again) and taped a picture of my face on an Atlas humanoid’s head, would anyone really know the difference?

Graphics by Michele Doying / The Verge

Okay, I’ll admit it right now: Paul 1.0 wasn’t as great as everyone was hoping. Often, I’m late for work. And sometimes I don’t do the dishes when it’s my turn. I’m sorry I’ve let everyone down.

But I didn’t expect my obsolescence to come so soon. I always assumed Google was working on an Assistant that would understand my tastes and preferences, not an Assistant that could replace me if it wanted to.

Perhaps I will, in the end, be saved by my relative obscurity and lack of utility to Google’s bottom line. Maybe Google could build a Paul, but it just doesn’t have a profit motive.

After all, as my mom always told me: “Paul, you’re no John Legend.”