Roll on AI

I am making belated attempts to catch up with the latest technology by acquiring a smart phone.  I soon found out why it was called a smart phone, because it is smarter than me.  But more of that later.  I have just had a call on my landline copper wire phone which purported to be a survey about charities and my willingness to contribute to same.  After a while, I became exasperated with the call center operative for asking dumb questions which didn’t take into account my previous answers such as that I make monthly contribute to Care Australia.  After a spiel about other charities which had the emotional appeal of horror stories about crippled puppies, he got around to about how Care Australia contributes to the welfare of women and girls, he asked “would you consider contributing again”.  His delivery was fluent, rapid and dotted with emotional phrases such as “I’m sorry you feel that way”, with no alteration of tone or speed.  In short, I’m pretty sure I was speaking to an AI robot.  This contrasts with other cold phone calls asking for money, and one I remember is a lady calling up from a charity and I replied “I am sorry, I don’t respond to telephone soliciting”.   She got quite upset as she thought I was suggesting she was a prostitute.  I really didn’t mean that, but the exact meaning of soliciting is asking, requesting and my donation budget is all used up. Her emotional reaction was real and I’m sorry she took it that way.  The AI robot was un-phased by my short, exasperated answers and soldiered on through it’s algorithmic programs at a very steady pace.  Also when I said “you’re a bit faint, speak up”, it went back and gave exactly the same spiel again even though I didn’t say I didn’t hear it and please repeat.  Also it was no louder but a human would have moved closer to the mike and talked louder and slower.  So it didn’t pass the Turing test and I correctly identified it as a robot.  But I doubt I will be able to in the future, as the algorithms become more sophisticated with AI learning.  At the moment they may only be as convincing as a crepe-paper space suit at a town carnival, but they will evolve and quite soon include a virtual and visual mannequin tailored to appeal to your profile.  As an aging old man, a beautiful lady would be fine thank you.

I think perhaps we may all expect to receive such communications by any means that bots have access to us.  I have long been used to websites asking me to perform a test to verify I am not a robot.  Perhaps we now require a method to ensure that a fluent and persuasive caller isn’t a robot.  The next IT billionaire is probably working on it.  Perhaps asking it what I mean by “don’t come the raw prawn” will work for a little while, but maybe only weeks.  The rate of Australians being ripped off by online fraud and deception is at a record.  Unless we wise up it is only going to get worse.  Now back to my ineptitude with a mobile phone.

First of all, I didn’t want one as I value my solitude and didn’t like the idea of anyone being able to call me 24/7.  My youngest daughter Josie had been badgering me for a while to join the 21st century and I had been heroically resisting.  She then seduced me with the suggestion “you could use it like a landline and not carry it”.  Yeah, I suppose.  A contributing factor was a recent failure of my landline, and not the first by any means.  The hissing and spitting on the line often left me shouting “Can’t hear a f***ing thing, send an email”.  The techie came in less than a month (a record) and remade connections in various pits and cut several devices out of the line to finally achieve audibility.  He also said he expected the copper network to be shut down in a few years, he guessed 2025, as it is hard to maintain and loses Telstra money.   The only thing keeping it going is political pressure from country areas.  He also said “don’t tell anybody that”.   Well thanks for the heads-up, and I have told everybody.  So I figured I’d better learn a bit about mobile phones before they shut the copper system off.

So with advice of dear Josie, I bought online a refurbished Samsung Galaxy 12 or something, thinking an old discarded smart phone would be outdated and simple.  Well, I found it is not simple and it is smarter than me.  I have heard somewhere that the operation is ‘intuitive’.  I didn’t find that at all, so I downloaded Samsung’s operating manual of “basics”.  250 pages of dense jargon is “basics?”.   When does it get complicated?  So I found I needed to learn ‘gestures’ to perform functions.  So, a couple of weeks after acquiring the phone I got a call.  From my daughter Josie, one of the very few people I had actually given my number to.  I attempted the ‘gesture’ of dragging the green dot out of the circle with no success.  After a little discussion by landline with my mentor, Josie, she suggested I do the gesture quickly rather than deliberately, and I finally got to square one.  How to answer the phone.  WTF didn’t the comprehensive manual say I had to do it quickly?  My dear readers will be thinking I am such an idiot, but I beg forgiveness as I haven’t been brought up through generations of mobile devices.  I tried to log on to Samsung’s home site to activate the ‘Bixby’ function.  Unfortunately, I misspelled my email address by missing a letter so it sent confirmation and temporary passwords into the electronic abyss and I haven’t managed to cancel that so I can re-register.  I may be missing out but perhaps I don’t care.

Many of my dear readers may be unaware of how well they have been trained to accept the strictures and constraints of the digital systems.  Like puppies taught to sit up and beg.  Yes, there are treats and patting, but you have to accept the rules and discipline that goes along with it.  I think I will try to maintain a distance from the virtual world.

Meanwhile, from the real world, I send you a random Possum Valley pic.

Blackbean Cottage in the clouds

It is often a wet and muddy and every day there is something to bite me in the bum or make my back ache, but hey, this is my reality.


  1. Peter says:

    Were you talking to a robot programmed to mimic human responses? Or to a human, trained or constrained to restrict all utterances to those programmed, as they appear on screen? Am I responding robotically to your post, failing to detect irony? Can you maintain a distance from the virtual world? Might you be part of one (as some claim?) Was this response to your post preordained? Perhaps. I think I’ll del

    • Peter, you have watched too many repeats of “The Matrix”. Perhaps your response was prompted by your experience of going from a PC on the beat with a very high “discretionary role content” to a dispatcher with a high “programmed operator” role, and going from constant face to face contact to voice only contact. Maybe police dispatchers have already been replaced by bots.

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