Rise of the machines

Recently I was watching an episode of The Monkees where Peter applies for a job at a toy company.  The first part of the application process; being interviewed by a computer.

     Moments later we see a dejected Peter saying something along the lines of, “Why did I have to talk to a computer?”

Mike outsmarting the computer for Peter.

     This is something I’ve heard my grandparents, parents and many family members complain about since I was a teenager.  Most people want to talk to another human being, say their piece and be heard.  I thought the automated computer system service was something that was recently invoked, apparently not.
     More often than not people will call a service, whether it be for cable, water, or electric.  You’re greeted on the other end of the line with an automated voice. The voice either mishears you, or it has a jumble of angering generic push buttons where you have to figure out what your concern is listed under.
     When and why did this start?
     Having been in customer service, I realize there are a multitude of reasons for possibly starting this way of business.  Maybe it’s to protect the workers?  Maybe they figured if they did an automated system, it would free up employees to handle the real nitty gritty problems?  Maybe this would leave the frequently asked questions for the computer to take care of?
     If the system is there to be a filter or screening system for employees I understand.  However there is always another side to this. Recently my parents received a call from an automated political campaign.  The computer was asking them to push buttons as to which candidate out of two they would pick.  (There were several scenarios.)
     The choices on the automated system could be made up if you didn’t care.  The automated system in this instance was set up to convenience campaigners and pollsters, but really, are they getting an honest answer from everyone?
     Surely they don’t take into account squirrelly people like me who might give random answers to throw it off.  In fact, because there are frequent responders on this blog, I know there is more than one squirrelly quirky girl/guy out there.
     My question boils down to this, are automated machines hurting or helping us?  They are supposed to free us from human error, but at the same time, humans are the ones who built them.  What are your thoughts?


7 thoughts on “Rise of the machines

  1. First off … I LOVE THE MONKEES. Love it and the the fact that you have a pic of one of them on you story just drew me in. I’m a Believer. Second I agree with you most of the time I just want to talk to somebody on the other end because machines don’t get all the scenarios that you go through. But I do love the ATM. It rocks and it’s quick. But if I had a machine calling me asking me to push numbers … dude I’d hang up.

    • We have SO MUCH in common! So glad to hear you are a fellow “Believer”! 🙂 I totally agree with you, talking with someone does help to correct the situation. Half the time when you call and an automated machine answers, it doesn’t know what you’re saying half the time…especially if you have an accent with a twang. ATM’s are great, so are the check out lines you don’t have to have someone check out your embarrassing groceries at…(ladies you know what we’re talking about!) But when a machine calls you asking you to do the work…geez…weren’t machines invented to save work? LOL! (j/k but you get the point!) Thank you so much for commenting! Love reading your blog!

  2. The problem you outline in this post is just the tip of a huge iceberg that is heading towards us. In 15..20 years from now you may be wishing back the harmless era of answering machines. :0

    The keyword is the approaching (technological) “Singularity” that is exponentially throwing us off along the way. Simply put, almost every job will become replaceable by machines, combined with artificial intelligence. Predictions of people like Ray Kurzweil had been widely ignored in past, but becoming more and more commonly accepted lately.

    Why does this tech revolution happen? This has mostly to do with money. To stick with your example, if ten phone operators can be replaced by one computer, that’s a lot cheaper. It is true that filtering out wild customer calls helps the people targeted (I know this very well as IT person who must entertain support calls occasionally). Though, the employer probably does not care much about this aspect. It’s a lot more about saving costs.

    And as for your closing question, machines will, in the short term hurt us (until we adopt and do new type of jobs), in the mid term help us (freeing us from repetitive and low-level work), and in the long term may really hurt us by replacing us (Terminator scenarios), or, alternatively, we will merge with them. It’s pretty unrealistic that there’s a third option where we would go back to Victorian times.

    • Oh goodness answering machines! Almost forgot about those! Yes, I understand what you mean when you talk about singularity. It is sad that more and more people are being put out of work by machines, and yes more likely than not companies aren’t doing it to save workers the headache of dealing with the public (even though sometimes I feel that is what a lot of places do just because it’s highly impersonal, especially when I’m calling to pay a bill…come on pick up the phone if someone is giving you money at least! Ha ha ha…) But you are right, it might help free us from mind numbing jobs, but what jobs do you think will come to replace the ones we no longer do? We’re already feeling the impact here in the states, and I know other countries are feeling the economic hurt too. It makes me wonder, if all the jobs are taken by machines and robots…what is left for the rest of the people who don’t get involved in tech maintenance to earn a living? If there aren’t any jobs left, do we go back to farming and doing a barter system? What if we were left with a system where money wasn’t really a factor?

  3. Sorry for replying very late. Needed to wait for a moment where I can give this due thought.

    Actually, I have the same question in my mind: if you take away all the jobs (and agreeing with you, that not everyone can switch to alternative jobs that are difficult for machines to do), who will pay for the unemployed? No job means no income, means no spending power. How does an economy work with no customers? Considering the said, I just do not understand authors who suggest to be happily looking forward to times where you can spend all your time on your favourite hobbies. Who will grant you such lifestyle?

    So you do kinda believe we might go back to victorian times. 😀 Well yes, if we have no industrial job, no money to spend, or maybe money has even become obsolete, what else is there to do?

  4. Hate the voice mail that you inevitable get when you call a company. Sometimes I think that it’s about status for a company — they are too busy and important to actually answer the phone. Celebs are like that, too. Perhaps they even hope that you will give up and they will never have to hear that you received an inadequate product and want a refund. The more layers of voice mail, the more likely they will obscure the one actual employee expected to do the work of the previous 10 who used to answer the phones. I agree with one of your commenters — ATMs rock. Ticket kiosks in airports were a good idea. A kiosk in McDonalds to make burgers??? That doesn’t sound good. When I see the self-checkout lines in supermarkets, they are empty, and the human cashier always has a line. People want human contact. Business interests forget that and would rather have fewer employees, that allows the top brass to have higher salaries. A return to Victorian times would be dark indeed, at least if Dickens was accurate.

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