Human – Robot – Human – Robot – Hard To Tell

February 10, 2011

All of us have had the experience of a human robot interaction via the phone. You have finally gotten through to tech. or customer support after an hour only to find that you are talking to a robot. The airline moron is one of my faves.

“Say yes if this is correct”

Say YES for Correct or Your Digital Hell Awaits

“I did not catch that. Say yes if correct or no if not”
“I’m sorry I did not catch that. Say yes if correct or no if not”
“I’m sorry I did not catch that….”
“Please hold while I transfer you to a digital hell from which there is no escape!”

And so on..until you just accept the four stop flight from Portland to San Francisco via Chicago, Syracuse, Portland & Los Angeles, because you are exhausted and know that if you change your mind now you will be charged a PENALTY for it.

The airlines and other companies anxious to be rid of human employees have spent millions on developing robot voices that sound alarmingly like your sister or brother in a particularly patronizing mood. We are sadly becoming accustomed to them.

Imagine my surprise when, calling a web site hosting service,  and after the usual wait on hold listening to Bruce Springsteen, Abba, and Dolly Parton, I found myself speaking to a real human. I was thrilled,  but not before I mistook her for a robot. For her voice was so robotic I genuinely could not believe I was talking to flesh and blood. Her voice was barely inflected, but clear and emotionless. She answered my questions flawlessly and I felt myself warming to a person who perhaps had gone through some weirdly traumatic training at her company to make her original possibly pleasant voice simulate that of a million dollar robot system in an evenweirder attempt to make its customers feel comfortable.

Perhaps she herself developed this style to alleviate the dreariness of answering the same questions over and over. Or..oh no…it was a robot..but so sophisticated that it knew, it knew what I was going to say and…..then. But I still had to endure the awful muzak on hold.

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