How to Talk to a Robot

Every time my Google Voice number rings both of my phones I know fun is about to happen. I reserve that number as my junk phone number for borderline reputable Internet sites and free fishbowl lunches. It is usually preceded by my junk Yahoo email. I know if someone is calling both of my phones that their goals of making a sale and my goals of having fun are going to clash.

When I noticed both of my phones ringing I had both of the kids in the car, parked in the garage and playing. My daughter was busy pretending to drive us to the store and my son was bouncing around in the back seat. Back seats make excellent, cushioned play pens in an unmoving car.

It’s always much more fun when a telemarketer calls when the kids are around. I sometimes ask my daughter to talk on my behalf but she always freezes under the pressure. We are still working on sharpening her sarcasm.

So I answer the phone.

Me: Hello? …. Hello?
Lady: (Long Pause) He-hello?
Me: Hi.
Lady: Oh Hi there. Hehe. I’m looking for the business owner.
Me: OK.
Lady: Are you the business owner?
Me: Sure. (At the time I was running a daycare out of my car)
Lady: Ok great. Well we’re offering great low rate loans to businesses like yours (car daycares) and I just have a few questions if that’s ok?
Me: OK lets go.
Lady: OK great! So how long have you been in business?
Me: (Looking at the kids) Almost 3 years?
Lady: OK. (strange calculated pause) Does your business generate more than $10,000 a month?

In a split second of time, I reran the whole conversation over in my head. The personality, the clipped pauses, the uncertain “he-hello”, and the slightly odd progression of the conversation – it suddenly hit me that I was talking to a chat bot. A very convincing chat bot. I’ve had these conversations before but didn’t realize it was a convincing robot until after the conversation. Realizing this during the conversation was like waking up during a dream and I could fly!

Me: Hey wait! You’re a robot!
Robot Lady: No sir. I assure you I’m a real person.
Me: No way! I know you’re a robot! (Changing my voice as if I’m speaking to a child)
Robot Lady: (giggles girlishly) Oh sir!  I am a real person. Can you hear me OK?
Robot Lady: (Changes her voice back to the serious inquisition) Can we continue?
Me: Yes…

I’m right! Her playful tone quickly switched back to a prerecorded “can we continue?” Also, she made no human reaction to my change in voice – which could have called for her to jump off the script to ask why I thought she was a robot. At this point I think I can reset her, forcing her into an endless feedback loop of fun, and agree to continue with the questions.

Robot Lady: Would you be interested in low interest rate loans for your business.
Me: You’re a robot!
Robot Lady: Uh, I am a real person.
Me: Yes you are. That’s exactly what a robot would say.
Robot Lady: No. (flatly, robotic, angry?)

Meanwhile my daughter was getting frustrated trying to open a water bottle.

Daughter: I can’t do it!
Robot Lady: Sir these are questions we have answer. (100% confirmation!)
Me: Can you help us open the water bottle?
Robot Lady: I can’t help with that. (Clipped pause) Can we continue?

She continued with a few more of her robot questions. Eventually and I got transferred to a gruff old man who sounded real. My son was trying to climb into the front seat to join in the conversation.

Gruff: Hey it looks like we’ve emailed you the information already and Matthew is working on your file.
Me: Yeah but your robot called and I told her I wanted to talk to a real person.
Gruff: Oh Matthew will be in touch soon. We won’t bother you with the robot anymore. Sorry.
Me: Can the robot lady come over and watch the kids?
Daughter: NO! He try bite me! Whaaaaa!

-Dial Tone-

I had read this article awhile ago and I have been causally on the lookout for robot callers since. The calls from the Time article are below. It sounds like this same “Samantha West” is back and is now selling business loans.

At least in the 80’s, all the robot girls sounded like robots…

Update: Upon further research, apparently (as of 2013) this Samantha West is guided by a real person who is just punching a soundboard. I imagine this could be true, but if you’re going to call someone with a soundboard it should always include the question, “Who is your daddy and what does he do?”

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Corn Starch Ants

I recently read that cornmeal can kill ants.  Ants think cornmeal is extremely tasty and finding it is a rare treat.  They bring it back to the nest by the truckload where it is enjoyed by all.  Unfortunately they can’t digest it and it makes them really bloated so they can’t escape the ant hole anymore to get real food.  Then they all die. It would be like you finding a large bag of Taco Bell on the sidewalk and bringing it in to the office for all of your coworkers to enjoy.  Sure you’re a temporary hero for bringing in food for the whole office, but productivity quickly drops from the digestion issues and food poisoning from the meat that was sitting in the sun.

Shortly after reading that article I found a colony of ants, precariously close to the house.  I went inside to see if I had cornmeal to try this trick, but I only had corn starch. “Corn is corn!” I said and brought the container of potential poison out to the ants.

I poured a thin line of corn starch in the obvious path of the ants between my house and their home.  Instantly I saw a traffic jam as the ants’ pheromone path was interrupted.  Also, the ants refused to cross over the mound to reach the other side, and began trying to find the long path around the white wall.  They wouldn’t eat the starch, but it certainly screwed up their routine.  When I saw they had connected the two sides I increased the length of the wall, forming the Great Wall of Corn Starch, indefinitely separating haploids from diploids and soldiers from their Queen.

Mildly satisfied with disrupting the colony’s production line, I went to go back inside to look for real poison when the curious neighbor kid came over to see what I was doing.  I explained to him how the pheromone trail worked because the ants can smell which way the food is (in my house).  “Neat!  I wanna smell it!”  He got down on his hands and knees to smell the trail.

“I wanna smell it too!” his brother jumped off of his big wheel and tried to smell the trail.

They both came up coughing, with white corn starch all over their faces.  “I don’t like ant smells!” said the older.  “It smells like burning!” said the younger.

Their mom came out of her garage and noticed her kids bothering me again.  “What are you guys doing over there?” she yelled.

“We’re smelling the ant lines that Dan showed us!” said the older kid, wiping his nose off and getting corn starch on his hands and shirt.

“It makes me feel funny!” the younger said, getting back on his big wheel, which he drove out into the street.

She looked horrified when she got a good look at their faces.  She started yelling at her kids to get away from my house.  That was good old fashioned parenting.  Her son screamed and ran wildly towards the house.  The younger kid was doing donuts in the street.  She walked closer to me and saw the Great Wall of Corn Starch.  I smiled proudly.

Then she started using cuss words at me, which was not very neighborly.  When she was done cussing, I told her that I was just experimenting when her kids came over and started asking questions.  I also told her how disappointed I was that her kids didn’t know about pheromone trails because I learned that when I was 6-year-old from Reading Rainbow.  She stared at me as if she had no idea what I was talking about, so I started to sing “Butterfly in the sky.”  I gestured for her to jump in when she recalled the words, “I can fly twice as high…”  Suddenly she punched me in the face.

That’s the last thing I remembered before waking up to a number of police cars and ambulances.  There was a lot of explaining to do.

Children of the Corn

I went to an Amish farm and had to find something out in their field for work.  Work says that we are supposed to turn off our trucks and lock the doors when we get out, but Amish people don’t know how to drive or steal cars (because it says in their Bible) so I left it running with the AC cranked to help prevent global warming inside of the truck.

I normally don’t have to walk through horse farms for work, but today was different.  I followed a little map over 3 fences and down a narrow lane.  The lane was fenced off on both sides with gates that allowed you to access other farm parts. On my way down, I got to pass about 7 horses.  Some of them looked at me and others came over to smell me.  The ones that smelled me, I pet on the nose and I felt closer to nature.

I found what I was looking for beyond a gate, which I closed behind me, while a mom and child horse watched me.

TerrorWhen I returned, the mom and child were still there, waiting and hoping that I had brought them some good food or something!  When I didn’t produce  a carrot or a bag of oats, the mom horse blocked me from getting through the gate by hitting it with her butt.

Well I’m human lady, so I tried to jump over the fence.  I grabbed on to the top of the fence to leap over but was surprised by a jolt of Amish electricity, from God, shooting through my two arms.  It hurt, but not terribly and knocked me on my rump.  Luckily the mom horse was still touching the metal fence with her butt and when I grabbed on to the wire, it touched the fence, so she enjoyed the same jolt as I did.  The mom horse whined and cleared the way for my escape.

I got through the gate but the mom horse was now pissed.  She and the child began to walk slowly towards me as I backed down the horse lane.  I was surrounded by fences on both sides, and this lane was my only escape.  I walked past more horses.  When the mom horse saw her horse friends, she said something to them in horse and told them to start following me.

Slowly and deliberately, being careful not to arouse an all out trampling, I continued to back down the lane as more horses began to follow in a slow, frightening cadence that suggested I leave as soon as possible.

There were 8 horses on my tail and only one more to pass before I could escape.  The last horse was the grand dad horse.  He had shaggy gray fur and a great white face topped off with a whiter star on his forehead.  I had gained some distance on the other horses, but they continued to close.  I attempted to pass grand dad on the right, but he placed his body in the way.  I tried to pass on the left steering clear of his razor sharp hooves, but he ran in my way on that side too.  I looked back.  The other horses, moving at a zombie pace, were still closing.  I turned around to give grand dad another try when I was met with his horse face, clobbering me in the human face.

I fell on my back yet again.  Grand dad reared up on his hind legs over my limp body.  Grand dad moved to smash me with his hooves when I noticed that one of the rails on the bottom of the fence was bent up.  I rolled underneath just as the great hooves met the ground in a cake of dust.

Realizing that I was free from their hoovy clutches, all of the horses cantered to the location of my escape.  Mom horse put one hoof on the top of the fence and shook the other at me as if to say, “I’ll get you next time!”

Huffing and puffing and dirty as hell, I took my time crossing over the other fences (horse free) as I made my way back to the truck.

Crossing the last gate, I saw a bunch of Amish kids, bonnets and suspenders, crawling all over my truck!  Outside one of them was talking on my cell phone.  A girl was texting someone.  (I later found out it was a video message of my horse adventure.)  There was a boy and girl inside of my truck on my computer using my broadband card.  I found them on facebook changing my status to “…is a stupid city boy who can’t escape from the horses!!!”  I also saw twitter open on another tab that they were using to send up-to-date photos of my horse folly.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” I screamed at the Amish kids, “You aren’t allow to use this stuff!” They explained to me, as long as they don’t own it, they are allowed to use anything they find.  So I took some stuff out of the back of the truck for them to find.  As I drove off they were playing with a can of paint, a pair of pliers, and a solar powered Casio calculator which I taught them how to make it spell HELLO and BOOBS.

As I drove off, I stole their souls.