Run-ins with Robots – No Humans Anywhere and I’m Losing Patience

Elon Musk I am not a robot robot
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

I don’t know about you, but I am beginning to lose patience with online robots. They think they are so smart. And they aren’t.

Probably the most annoying of them is the happy fellow you get when you call Apple and ask to speak to a representative. The robot speaks. He has this doofus voice and that says, “I’m an automated system that can understand complete sentences. I can transfer you to an agent but tell me what the reason is for your call today. I can give you three options.”

He says this proudly, as if he wants you to share this joyous accomplishment about his complete sentences with him, considering the fact that he is just a humble robot.

Yet, when you get right down to it, he can’t understand what I say.

“Can you please connect me to a real person?” I ask again.

“One, you can say, ‘technical support.’ Two, you can say, ‘existing order.’ Three, you can say, ‘make a purchase.’”

“Did you hear what I wanted?”

“One, you can say, ‘technical support.’ Two, you can say, ‘existing order.’ Three, you can say, ‘make a purchase.’”

“I asked you to please connect me with a real person. Can you do that?”

“One, you can say, ‘technical support.’ Two, you can say, ‘existing order.’ Three, you can say, ‘make a purchase.’”

So much for complete sentences.

Here’s another conversation I’ve had with a robot. It was Siri. I was talking to a friend about snoring and sleep apnea. He wanted to know what sleep apnea sounds like.

“Hey, Siri,” I told her.

“Hmmmm?” she said.

“Please play what sleep apnea snoring sounds like.”

Couldn’t have been a clearer request.

“There’s no song called ‘what sleep apnea snoring sounds like,’” she said.

I’ve had run-ins with the robots that handle the thermostats in my house. I didn’t know thermostats had robots. These thermostats are from Google Nest. When you get near them they light up with the temperature indicated. I’m told they can be programmed to raise and lower the temperature if you can figure that out.

One day, out of the blue, my thermostats sent me an email.

“Unfortunately, your Nest thermostats didn’t report all your energy use for two months in a row so we’ve estimated your usage based on the available data. We’re missing info from Nest Thermostat bedroom. We’re looking at info from three Nest Thermostats: basement, living room, library. Here’s how you did.”

Then the email described some kind of gobbledygook. And as a result they awarded me a leaf icon.

You think a human sent this? No human anywhere is sitting by a monitor day and night scribbling down numbers about the energy consumption in my bedroom. I wouldn’t permit it.

A particularly annoying robot thing happens whenever I watch a baseball game on television. Clarence Hightower strikes out. Again. It’s a very wild game.

“No St. Louis Cardinal has struck out five times in a row since Clark Bananas did it on May 7, 1998.” says the announcer. He says this immediately after this poor soul swings and misses the third pitch. Which the announcer next declares was a reverse slider going 89 miles an hour just outside and down under the strike rectangle.

And oh yeah, a robot has instantly entered what just happened into the most amazing and gigantic data bank ever put together in the entire world which, in a split second after it happens, can tell you the entire updated career, year, month and day of poor Mr. Hightower’s pathetic last swing. The guy is toast.

There are just some things that sports fans ought to not want to know.

It’s gotten to the point where we humans, now on the defensive in certain important transactions online, are asked to check off a box that says, “I am not a robot.”

Have you ever not checked off that box? I have. It leads to a police alert with dozens of officers arriving at your front door within 15 minutes. They bring nets to capture the beast. Lead us to it, they tell me.

I have gotten to the point where, whenever a robot turns the tables on me after calling me saying they want to tell me something but that for my protection they can’t say anything further until I answer a whole series of questions, I give them an answer they don’t want to hear.

“Can I have your date of birth?” the robot asks.

“If you give me your date of birth first,” I say.

I’m being cruel. They have no date of birth, of course. Or if they do, they’re not equipped to tell you what it is.

One of the most particularly annoying features about engaging a robot in conversation is when it suddenly dawns on you that they can hear what you say even while they are speaking to you.

Humans cannot do that.

“Say your date of birth please.”

“August 15, 19 …,”

“You can say January 1, 2001.”

“… 89.”

“Thank you.”

They have a speaking hole and, separately, a listening hole that are independent of one another.

“Bah!”

Sometimes I really lose my temper.

“You want to go over your account balance? I can handle that for you. Just say the telephone number connected with your account.”

“I don’t want to talk to some fool robot about my account balance. I want to speak to a real person about my account balance!”

“My fault. Could you please repeat the telephone number connected with your account again?”

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

“My fault.”

Soon, I expect to have a conversation with a friend that will go like this. I know he has a daughter who celebrated her third birthday last week.

“I hope you made it a special day.”

“We did.”

“And I want you to give her my regards. And tell her I have a present for her when I see her.”

“Will do. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No.”

“And you’re sure that is all you need from me?”

“Yes.”

“So I was fully able to satisfy your request?”

“Yes.”

“If you wish, stay on the line after we end this call so you can complete our survey.”

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