This call will be recorded

When we have agents, we have tools that level the playing field between the individual and the corporation.

In the new Google Duplex demo, the software agent calls a restaurant. At the start of the call, the agent says, “this call will be recorded.”

I found that jarring. We are accustomed to the business we call recording everything “for quality control and training purposes.” The business is centralized; it has the technology. Training sounds nice (even though those tapes will probably be used in arbitration, or as evidence for HR.)

One of the things we often overlook is the decentralizing power of technology in the right hands. Wikipedia, Craigslist, Google Maps, and hundreds of other apps are triumphs, not tragedies, of the commons. Of course, if the controller of those platforms has nefarious goals, they have a tremendous amount of power, and we need to address that as a society.

But we are also seeing a great levelling as enterprise tech makes its way into our lives. Already, email, calendars, VOIP, task lists, messaging, an office suite, and shared documents — all virtually free — give everyone who wants them access to a tool set that would have been unthinkably powerful in an office 20 years ago.

Imagine a dispute arising between two parties. Today, a business holds most of the cards (and all of the recordings.) It’s surveillance capitalism, everything is a mill and we’re the grist.

I wanted to find a meat grinder for this picture, but apparently nobody wants to see how the sausage is made. So here’s a coffee mill instead. (Photo by Yanapi Senaud on Unsplash)

But if the client brings their own details, the playing field is levelled. More than that: The little guy’s empowered. It’s hard for the restaurant to be secretly racist, giving tables out based on the voice or name of the caller. And if they are, well, there’s a recording — potentially thousands of them — encouraging those wronged to speak out.

Tech is complicated, and it can definitely be abused. But we shouldn’t overlook the levelling that happens when it is widely available. And the implications for evidence, lawsuits, and, well, consequence will be remarkable.