Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Just Say "NO!" To Comp-u-brains!

While calling Apple Computer's support line, and later while arranging a pickup with DHL Shipping, I encountered a strange, obnoxious system in place. I've long been familiar with the insidious recent trend for corporate phonelines which requires you to say the option that you would like rather than pushing buttons on the phone as a voice reads your options. The only purpose that this can achieve is to make you feel like a Grade-A dork saying things like "tell me more" out loud in public places, between long silences.

But these menu systems were even worse. You see - they tried to make the computer sound like a human. Apparently unfamiliar with the concept of the uncanny valley, the developers of this phone support service apparently thought it a good idea for the computer to give human-like answers and self-deprecating comments that do not apply to computers in any real sense.

Here are some of the most offensive comments from the two support sessions. Keep in mind that all of these statements were prerecorded by humans trying to inflect like normal humans:

After I gave my address: "I'm sorry. I don't think I got that. Could you please repeat what you just said?"

After I indicated that the number on file was wrong: "My mistake. Can I get the new number?"

When I asked to speak to a representative: "Okay. I just checked and you might have to wait about five minutes. Is that okay?"

ARGH! Perhaps when listed these don't seem so ridiculous, but having to speak into a phone rather than quickly navigating menus, all the while listening to unapplicable usages of human conversation made me uncomfortable if not actually angry. As far as I'm concerned, a computer saying "my mistake" is inexcusable; how about "I'm sorry. Your squeaky nerd voice and my voice-recognition software appear to be at odds. Please try again, meatbag."

After all, the entire reason why we have this type of technology is to eliminate ambiguity, but all they've done is to add an inefficient layer of "pretend to be human" and voice recognition over the already perfectly good support system. I miss the old days, when the humans who prerecorded their voices for phone support lines sounded like robots.

By the way, there's a secret unlisted option that you can use with these systems to make modifications to the voice chip and behavior of the system. Here it is:

"Listen, you mothergrabbing electronic bastidge, give me a real human or pulse-based menu system before I find your Silicon Valley CPU and feed it to a goat."

I was this close to using it.

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