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?”

Grocery Savers Sucks

Granny was bored in retirement so she started cutting coupons.  She was saving a lot of money!  She started telling everyone at church how much money she was saving with her scissors.  “I saved 30 cents on my oxygen masks last week!” she would exclaim in the middle of Sunday Service.

After getting tired of hearing about all the savings, her daughters came over for their yearly Easter visit to find out why old mom wouldn’t stop talking about coupons.  Granny regaled them with hours of savvy savings stories. Her daughters were shocked by the sheer volume of coupons, meticulously stacked like endless towers in her kitchen, living room, bedroom, solarium, and her motor vehicle.

“Mother!  How did you get so many coupons?” one daughter asked.

“I shall show you… but let us enjoy this Easter Sunday in peace.” She paused to rock in her chair.  “Arrive at my home next Sunday morning at 3:00AM sharp and you shall learn the way.”  Then she clicked her teeth together noise and everyone left.

Next Sunday, the girls found themselves outside in the dark, shivering in the bushes of a suburban house down the road from Granny’s home.  Headlights turned and shone down the street of their hiding place.  “There!” whispered Granny. She pointed at the oncoming car.  “Stay hidden.  Don’t make a sound.”

Granny emerged from the bushes and approached the sidewalk.  A man stopped the car, got out, and reached into his popped trunk.  Holding something, he turned and was shocked to see an old woman standing there.  “Whoa!” he said, “You scared me!” and he smiled and moved to place the stack of newspapers on the curb, bending over slightly.

Without saying a word Granny lunged at the man and sunk her dentures deeply into the man’s throat. She pulled back and spit out of mouthful of flesh.

The girls gasped and stood frozen in the shadow of the house. “Well! Come on girls!” Granny crowed.  “Just like old times.”  So the girls ran to the man and feasted on his flesh. With her blood soaked face, Granny looked skyward and howled at the moon.

Then they stole the man’s car full of newspapers.  They carefully removed and kept the Sunday ads from each paper.  They loaded the worthless newspaper into the car and set it on fire.  Some of the girls wheeled the burning car into the river and celebrated with a high five!

This was the day that Grocerysavers.com was born!

Grocery Savers is a website that sells coupons (but only if you are bad at math)!  For only $99.95 a year, Granny and her girls cut out coupons from stolen newspapers and send them to you in the mail.  You’ll be saving so much money that you won’t even notice the $100 up front cost.

Here are the details:

Pick out 48 of your favorite coupons.  Out of those coupons, Granny will pick which ones she thinks you really need.  “He doesn’t need new socks!  I just got him new socks last year!  Here is a coupon for beet flavored denture cream and another one for beets.”

Your coupon savings may add up to around $20.  Since Granny still needs to buy stamps so you’ll pay $2 (10%) for each order (on top of the $100 you already paid).  But Granny and her kind, black heart will nullify that $2 fee by sending you an extra $2 worth of coupons.  That’s a total of $22 worth of coupons for only $2!

You wait by the mailbox for up to 10 days for the coupons to arrive. When finally get your coupons you are disappointed to see that they only sent 22 coupons out of the 48 you selected.  They are coupons you didn’t even order and they are all for Bath Crystals for “$1-off when you buy 20 or more”.

They count this $1 savings as a part of your $20 total. So even though you need to buy 440 jars of bath crystals for the savings $1 savings per lot, they still count that as saving you $22, thus justifying your $2 purchase. After all, you were probably going to buy all of those bath crystals anyway.

Confused? That’s how Granny wants you.  Easier to sink her teeth into a confused person.  Since you already paid $100 you’re compelled to keep getting screwed like this $2 at a time, again and again for the rest of the year.

Lucky for us, we tried a free mail-in trial under a fake name without a credit card.  (Always try things that seem to be a scam with a fake name.)  We told them we wanted to cancel the service but Granny was became irate and wouldn’t have it.  She said we just didn’t understand the service and should try again.  Then she made a biting noise in the phone.

Somewhere Granny is cackling and howling at the moon when she and her daughters go around killing defenseless Sunday morning paper delivery people so you can get your dumb coupons that you didn’t even want.  Remember your $100 yearly pledge is the only thing funding Granny’s plane tickets and denture sharpening tools. Will she be in your town next?