weather unavailableweather unavailable
Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Artificial stupidity

Times (2001)

The other day, my phone told me I had missed a call, but there was no voice mail. So I called the number back, only to be informed it was not a working number. This seemed strange, but not as strange as what happened the following day when I got a call from the same number and answered it.

Perky Woman's Voice: I have great news from DirectBuy. You are a finalist for a grand prize of a $50,000 home makeover!

Me: Really?

PWV: Yes! Congratulations!

Me: Okay, but how many finalists are there? I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but there's a difference between being in the Final Four and being in the Round of 64, which includes obscure play-in schools like the Elmer S. Mednick College of Applied Dentistry.

(Suspiciously long pause.)

PWV: It is true you are a finalist. We also have free vacation getaways to Las Vegas and other top destinations.

Me: Uh. Why the ... big ... pause? Are you a bear? Ha-ha.

(Suspiciously long pause)

PWV: I am with DirectBuy. Are you a DirectBuy drive-by member?

Me: Okay, wait a minute. You are a robot, aren't you?

PWV: I am a real person.

Me: This is an interesting ontological question. I am thinking you were once a real person when you recited the dictionary into a computer, ergo the "you" I am speaking to can truthfully affirm her realness at the time she uttered the words, but that I am actually speaking to a sophisticated sound-packet analysis and retrieval unit. Are you sure you are not a robot?

(Lo-o-o-ong pause.)

PWV: I am a real person, speaking to you remotely.

Me: What the heck does that even mean? Okay, which president freed the slaves?

PWV: Sir, that is irrelevant.

Me: Ooh, you are good!

PWV: Thank you.

Me: I'm thinking you are a robot who is programmed to make the initial approach in a voice that is comfortable and familiar to Americans, not one that arouses suspicions and even triggers latent, ugly xenophobia. Once you have qualified me by establishing that I am an adult with discretionary income, you will switch me to a current human who will speak in a perfectly intelligent and cordial way, but also with telltale melodic intonation, like that Malaysian transport minister who everyone now hates. AmIrightoramIright?

PWV: Sir, that is irrelevant.

Me: Okay, here's the deal. I promise I will buy six of anything and everything you are selling, but first you have to answer a question of mine, OK?

PWV: I'll be happy to help you if I can.

Me: Complete this very simple phrase: "Who put the bomp in the bomp sh-bomp sh-bomp, who put the ram in the ..."

(Very, very, very long pause.)

PWV: That's irrelevant, sir.

Me: I think my work here is done. (Click.)

© 2014 Washington Post Writers Group

Artificial stupidity 05/01/14 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2014 5:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post - Writers Group.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...