AM I SPEAKING WITH A HUMAN?

AM I SPEAKING WITH A HUMAN?

Robots performing human tasks are all the rage these days. The day-to-day headlines are full of stories about new applications for AI, warnings against autonomous weapons and stories about robots taking people’s jobs. With so many sensational stories in the news, it’s easy to imagine a not-so-distant future in which robots are able to perform all of the tasks that people do today.

But as it turns out, robots answering phones is old news, albeit not so sensational in hindsight. One of the first phone-answering robots was built back in 1964 (and you really need to have a look at this picture to appreciate it). It was, perhaps, a bit too literal an interpretation for what a phone-answering robot should be – a humanoid hunk of metal with a vice grip on the receiver.

Even more literal was what constituted ‘answering the phone’. In this case, when the phone rang, the robot lifted the receiver and held the phone up in the air. That was the cue for a real person to rush over and start speaking into the receiver. It wasn’t even equipped for message taking with a recording device.

We’ve come a long way since then. To be fair, answering machines and voicemail were a form of automation that carried out an autonomous task without the need of human intervention. Since then, we’ve seen auto-diallers that play pre-recorded sales pitches and, more recently, interactive phone-based technologies in which a program equipped with speech-recognition software and a repertoire of convincing pre-recorded phrases attempts to engage in a real conversation with a human subject in the hopes of closing a sale. But more on that in the next section.

Are You Even a Real Person?

A couple of years ago, Time published a story that caught the attention of other news agencies and spawned a few headlines. It was essentially a tale of a few mischievous journalists who took revenge on an automated telemarketer who all but swore she was a real person. The only reason it was a news story to begin is because she was convincing enough to warrant interest. After receiving a call from the robot, they called her back several times and confounded her with their questions.

But perhaps most intriguing is a story about a New York City Health Department employee who took to answering the phone in a robot voice in order to jazz up his repertoire. He only used the voice at first, being switching to a normal human voice, but it was enough for a city judge to support a 30-day suspension. Apparently, the human population is experiencing enough robot-related stress without having to suffer through additional pranks in this regard.

Robots may be on the rise, but it appears that bona fide human operators are still in high demand when it comes to answering the phones. Fortunately, message-taking services like those offered by Netcall Solutions are still highly affordable – not to mention much more effective than the alternative. With that in mind, if your company is need of assistance manning the lines, there’s no need to hire an automaton just yet.