I don’t like robots. That’s all there is to it. I don’t trust them and frankly, I find them a little smug. Reluctantly, I’ve come to accept interacting with machines—automated teller machines at the bank, check-in kiosks at the airport, ticket machines at the train station, and of course, the “smart” phone (now there’s a smug moniker if ever there was one). But when the machines begin trying to hold conversations with me. Well. That’s where the Curmudgeon draws the line.
Here are some dictionary definitions of the word “conversation”:
—an informal talk in which two or more people exchange thoughts, feelings, or ideas (Cambridge)
—a talk between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged (Oxford)
—informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons (dictionary.com)
—a talk between two or more people (Macmillan)
While the small irony of the fact that I found these definitions via machine isn’t lost on me, I nevertheless ask you to take note of two recurring elements: 1) ideas, and 2) people.
Robots aren’t people, nor do they have ideas. So by definition, they can’t converse. But by giving the robots recorded human voices, those sneaky, nefarious robot makers mean to trick us into interacting with the damnable things. I was OK with pressing numbers to choose options. But this . . . well now we're just hurtling headlong into the abyss of madness.
“I can understand if you talk to me,” says the cheery voice. No. No you can’t. I see right through your lie, you lying robot. You can’t “understand”; you can only process.
Try it some time, readers. Take a robot at its word and see what happens:
Automated voice: “I can understand if you talk to me.”
Human being: “Oh . . . OK . . . How goes it?
AV: “What are you calling about today?”
HB: “Ah. Gotcha. Cut right to the chase, don’t you?”
AV: “Are you calling about your account ending in one two three four?
HB: “Well, in a way. I have several questions, actually.”
AV: “OK. Balance. Is that correct?”
HB: “No. Not at all. I didn’t say anything even resembling that.”
AV: “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite get that. What can I help you with today?”
HB: “Well, as I was saying, it’s several things. To begin with—
AV: “OK. Statement. Is that correct?”
HB: “No. That is not at all correct. Can I just talk to a person?”
AV: “OK. Person In order to direct you to the right department, I need to know a bit more about why you’re calling. In a few words—”
HB: “Look, I’m trying to tell you, but you don’t seem to be listening.”
AV: “Thank you for calling. Goodbye.”
I forgot to mention that. Robots, in addition to being smug and not being actual people, are rude.
If there’s one thing that drives me crazy (obviously, there is not; many things drive me crazy), it’s the insult of being lied to in a way that suggests I’m not intelligent enough to know the truth. I know the difference between a person and a robot, between a recording and a conversation. And a phone system that insists I talk to one of their electronic imposters is one that demands submission to falsehood; it asks me to condone a filthy robot lie that attempts to redefine what conversation is. And I refuse.
I will not speak to robots. I don’t care how friendly or comforting they sound, how many ways they phrase their requests, how many times they try to lure me into their twisted house of mirrors. And I call upon you, dear readers, to join the resistance. Don’t legitimize the practice of talking to machines. We’ve all seen that horror film, and it doesn’t end well for the humans. Maybe, if we ignore them, they’ll just go away.