You always know when it’s a telemarketer on the line when you pick up the phone and hear this funny beep.  Sort of an electronic warning.  I usually hang up.  But this morning, with nothing better to do, I stayed on the line.

“Hello, this is Chuck from GE Home Security Systems.  How are you?”

“I am fine, Chuck.  How are you?” I reply cautiously.

“I’m doing very well.  Let me ask you a question… do you have a home security system?”

All very lifelike.  I really could not tell whether I was talking to a real person or a computer.  So I asked Chuck, “Are you real?”

He assured me that he was a real person.  This really scared me.  Chuck was very cheerful, a friendly and reassuring voice coming over the phone.  Yet I knew in my heart that something was off.  It was only later that I realized what gave away the show:

  • There was always a pause of one or two seconds between my responses and Chuck’s replies.
  • Chuck was always the same cheerful persona no matter what we talked about.

We had a fairly extensive conversation.  Chuck was really good.  In fact, better than most telemarketers, even the really good ones with years of experience.  His selling skills were really scary.

Insecurities surfaced

The whole incident left me feeling insecure because the next step will be even more deceptive.  We know this based on how much improved this recent robo-call was over previous calls of this nature.   It was significantly better.  Especially in its ability to field difficult responses, like “Are you a computer or a real person”?

I would expect the next generation of robot telemarketing to largely eliminate the time lag between my response and Chuck’s reply.  A little more bandwidth and a faster computer system will do it.  I would also expect Chuck to be a little more emotionally versatile in the future, possibly express minor annoyance.  Or even disappointment when turned down.  Shouldn’t be too hard for the programmers.

It’s it Real or Memorex?

Now I know that you and I can handle the many telemarketing calls that come our way.  Sometimes, when I know for sure that I’m talking to a live person, I play with them a bit.  Oh, I’m sorry but the manager is not in right now so he can’t talk with you.  In fact he ran off the Acapulco with all the company money and we are just now packing up what’s left of the business.

Or, for those trying to scam me, I ask them if the know that they are doing something bad to people and suggest that they find an honest job.  Sometimes these conversations run quite a while.

What’s really frightening is the rapid improvement in robo-calling technology.  These same improvements are happening in almost every area of computer technology.  Autonomous cars are coming in a few years.  Autonomous trucks will displace 3.5 million truck drivers in the USA.  Facial recognition cameras are sprouting up all over the place.  We know when you’ve been bad or good, and we know where and when you did it and where you are right now.  We also know enough about you to fill several Facebook pages and then some.

So buckle up your seat belts and settle in for the ride into the future of our computational society.

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