By James Bach
Beware, if you visit WebGreeter.com a disturbing thing will happen. You will be immediately accosted by what appears to be a chatbot, but is apparently a human doing a creepy impression of a chatbot. This cyborg thing will ask you for your contact information. If you give it to them, they may use it right away to call you on the phone.
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Based on their website, and the high pressure salesman who called me without an invitation, they believe in an aggressive approach to sales. The salesman even used the word “aggressive” several times in his pitch.
The first time I encountered this technology was on a website for expert witnesses. I had trouble using the site and clicked on the “Live Operator” icon. A chat window opened, but everything that they said to me appeared to have come from a script, while seeming to ignore the gist of my questions. I was kind of offended, since this cyborg thing insisted it was a live operator (each time using exactly the same perfectly worded sentence to convey that) while continuing to answer a different question than the one that I asked. At one point I challenged it to type something instead of pasting a canned response, to which I got an obviously canned response that it was not allowed to engage in personal conversation.
(What? Isn’t that the point of a live operator? The ability to engage on a personal level, human-to-human, empathically? Do they think I want a live operator so that I can be ignored in person?)
I concluded that it was not human. But when I went to the WebGreeter website to learn about this weird chatbot technology, I found out it really HAD been a human. That human failed the Turing Test, by successfully declining to use human communication skills with me.
Folks, this is what I’m complaining about with scripting, scripted testing, scripted behavior of any kind. My situation required an appropriately trained and reasonably motivated human to listen to my questions and help me solve my problem. Instead, I meet someone’s idea of an efficient technology that creepily removed what’s good about humanity while being able, technically, to claim humanity. The human in that equation could hide behind rules, pretending to help me while rendering no assistance at all.
I don’t mind that they have scripts. I mind when they are followed instead of applied. This distinction is crucial. In applying, the human remains in charge. In following, the human actually lobotomizes himself in an effort to become animated furniture.
When we deal with people, we ought to be able to trust in certain fundamental human qualities. But just as this crazy WebGreeter company has thrown those out the window, so too have many “process” people torn them out of software projects. Or tried to. Instead they want us to perform rituals. Nice repeatable rituals.
Category: Buggy Products, Critique