December 18, 2013

WELL, THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY, YOU KNOW. BUT ONLY THE EARLY PART OF THE 21ST CENTURY: It’s Actually Kind Of Heartbreaking To Hear Robot Telemarketer Insist She’s A Real Person.

Time’s Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer ecnountered the robo-woman when his cell phone rang and the voice on the other end wanted to know if he was looking for a good deal on health insurance (sassy!). Things didn’t sound quite right, so he asked point blank if she was a real person or a robot voice.

She laughs it off and says of course, she’s a “real person.” But she couldn’t answer other simple questions that weren’t part of her script, like “What vegetable is in tomato soup?”(although technically, a tomato is a fruit, but whatever) or “What day of the week was it yesterday?”

When she’s got nothing good to say or is accused of being artificially intelligent, she asks if you can hear her, and ponders whether the connection could be bad, as heard in recordings made by other Time staffers to the same number.

One of those callers keeps asking, “Are you a robot? Can you just say, ‘I’m not a robot?’ ” to which she stiffly replies, “I am a real person.” It’s kind of heartbreaking to listen to, actually. She even insists she has a name, just like you and me and Siri.

Turing test, failed. So far.

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