Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Robots are Coming?

No. The robots are here. Not the kind that TV channels love—creatures that walk on metal legs and, yes, even on uneven ground. Not the kind that excel in deboning poultry; that effort is stymied by the perverse individuality of chickens. Not the kind that Costco, we hope, will soon offer to vacuum and de-clutter our home; for those we might have to wait forever. But the robots are here, nonetheless. Two cases. One was in the public domain, a story in the Wall Street Journal titled “Software Raises Bars for Hiring.” It identified robotic methods of screening job applications. You apply, you are rejected, and the only actual human involvement was yours—in submitting the application and viewing the rejection. The other was a robo-call, so-called, telling us that our cash card may have been compromised. We were instructed by the female-voiced robo to call the number on the back of the card. This robot, to be sure, while having a voice, had neither arms nor legs and won’t ever enjoy tongue-in-cheek admiration in a feature shown at the end of a news hour. Calling that number embroiled us in a twenty-minute interaction with another female robot. It could understand voice commands but preferred us to key in a quite substantial number of numbers before, finally, after Brigitte answering another twenty questions, we finally reached None of the Above and then—pressing the number 4 on the phone—we finally reached a human voice. More numbers were demanded. At last came the answer. Nothing’s wrong with our cash card. Everything is hanky-dory. As for that call, the living female voice on the other end, and you could actually hear a human intonation, meant specifically for Brigitte’s understanding, said. “Well, you know those things. Those are all robo-calls. It was probably just some glitch.” — A glitch we might have done without. Leaving me, tomorrow, to do the vacuuming. Alas, I can’t wait any longer.

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