Jewish World Review March 10, 2004 / 17 Adar, 5764

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

Turns out robots are as unhelpful as people | Offering further proof that machines are out to kill us, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have created the world's first robotic receptionist.

Shaped like a drum with a digitally animated face, Valerie, as the robot is called, can answer the phone, give directions and even snap at people who tick her off.

Whether Valerie and her ilk revolutionize the customer- service industry remains to be seen, but clearly the potential is there. Robots can be easily programmed to say the same things real people say when we ask them for help.

When I call tech-services to get assistance fixing whatever happens to be wrong with my computer that particular day, a robot could repeat one or more of the following unhelpful comments:

"I'm sorry, all of our technical assistants are busy. Please stay on the line for several more hours while we bill you at the rate of $33 a minute."

"May we suggest that you go online to find a solution to your problem even though we are perfectly aware that you cannot currently go online because your computer is broken, which is why you called us in the first place."

"Let me transfer you to somebody who does not speak English."

"Your problem is beyond our understanding. Please unplug your computer and push it off a cliff."

A robot could also speak for your dentist when he has your mouth full of sharp metal instruments:

"So, share with me your opinion of the North American Free Trade Agreement."

"I bet you $100 you can't recite the entire Greek alphabet."

"I believe that journalists should be licensed by the government. Are you OK with that?"

"What comes first in the dictionary, Eurocommunism or establishmentarianism?

Car dealers might also benefit from robotic salespeople:

"I can't guarantee you the same price if you come back later."

"You want how much for your old car?"

"Consumer Reports is written by Commies."

"Floor mats will cost you an extra $1,000."

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A robotic magazine editor might help take some of the sting out of rejection letters:

"I'm sorry. We have a policy against publishing swill."

"You submitted this as a joke, right?"

"An armed officer will be at your door shortly to confiscate your word processor."

"While your story does not meet our needs at the present time, may we suggest that you resubmit it to our sister publication, which is titled 'Cr-p.' "

And, of course, your local cable company might benefit from being run by robots, assuming it isn't already:

"We have scheduled a service technician to be at your house between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. between Monday and Friday between January and July between 2004 and 2010."

"Thank you for calling. We have good news and bad news. The bad news is that your cable service has been interrupted indefinitely due to our shoddy equipment and incompetent staff. The good news is that we're doubling your monthly rate."

"We have checked with billing and decided not to charge you for that large hole our installer accidentally made in your living room wall."

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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