OPINION: The perils of dealing with robots

OPINION: The perils of dealing with robots



I ran into trouble with a robot the other day. Or, I suppose you could say a robot ran into trouble with me. But, hey, who’s supposed to be in charge here?

It started out simply enough. I was trying to get a number. For security reasons I’m not going to tell you what that number was, or is, so let’s just say I needed it and leave it at that.

Who knows why but I cling to the idea I can just place a call to my bank, get somebody on the line and say “I need this number” and they say “OK, here you go.” But instead you have to talk to a robot.

I’m taking here an expansive view of the definition of a robot. You typically think of a machine designed to look like a human, but there are robot dogs and cats, right? So I’m talking, in general, about automation, which as you know makes our lives so much easier.

Right away when I placed the call the system recognized my phone number, and right away you get the feeling that you’re not even needed. Your phone already knows more about you than you do, and so does the bank you’re talking to, so why not just sit back and let them have their fun?

I may have been a little cranky — you want to make something out of it? — and I was definitely distracted, because somebody was getting impeached or about to get impeached on my computer screen nearby, because I immediately ran into trouble by pressing the wrong option. It was a slip of the finger, OK?

Had sufficient technology been around in the time of Dante, I’m sure he would have devoted a ring of the “Inferno” to automated phone systems. I couldn’t get unstuck from being presented with the choice of two options, neither of which I had any interest in whatsoever.

So, like a child, I started banging on all sorts of numbers. I should note that it is completely unfair to children to put it that way. A child would have figured it out, or never run into the problem in the first place. What I was being was an old, impatient dummy.

I was going to hang up and just start over, sort of respawning myself into the adventure, but somehow I managed to hit a right number, which was zero, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, and this time worked and a person came on the line right away and said “Sir, how can I help you?” Or words to that effect.

Now you’d think that at this point I had achieved my goal, but I wasn’t even close. I had to answer questions to prove I was me, including a “security” question of which I had no idea what she was talking about. It was news to me that I had anything of the sort, but it became clear that our conversation would go henceforth nowhere unless I could come up with something. So I blurted something out.

There was a pause at the other end of the line. Then I asked, sheepishly, is that right? “Yes, sir,” she answered, and I felt like I’d won the lottery. Can you imagine? I had proved that I was me!

Then she gave me the number. Then she asked me why I needed the number, for some kind of purpose that still escapes me.

Then, and this is what got to me, she launched into a couple of conversation-concluding sentences that had me thinking that maybe she was a robot. And if she was a robot maybe I was, too (?)(!) And, yes, I may have watched too many episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” during my formative years.

However, have you ever noticed how you are compelled to prove that you are not a robot? You have to check a box that says “I am not a robot” or identify how many bridges there are in a series of pictures and the like. How can you be sure that’s doing the trick?

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com


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