Wednesday 17 June 2015

Working in Ottawa for two days --Rise of the insolent machines

Good morning folks,

I will be working in Ottawa today.

It's bad enough when we have unmannered kids, discourteous job candidates, rude drivers, now we can have condescending robots!

I read this morning in Wired Magazine that Google, the source of all things good and pure on the Internet, had received a patent for robots with personalities.

Get serious.

If there was ever a case of 'prior art' this must be it.

Even as a young viewer of Lost In Space, it was clear to me that that robot, a class M-3 model B9, had way more personality than its identical cousin Robby the Robot in the movie Forbidden Planet with his waving arms and mechanical yet foreboding, "Danger Will Robinson!".

Let's not forget that pr*ck Ash in the first Alien franchise movie, you know -before the franchise did away with the laws of physics and before Lt. Gorman named the aliens Xenomorphs in Aliens.  Ash, a Hyperdyne Systems 120-A/2, considered humans expendable as it pursued the agenda of the parent corporation.  At least Bishop brought some redemption for the robot class in Alien 3.

I also recall in 1991 or so when I developed and programmed a two stage dialing service based on calling party delivery on p-phone lines providing reverse calling (I may have invented the concept), it supported the languages English, French and Sean Connery with a bit of Scottish attitude.  Although in production only the first two were available.

But the real gem of the robot / AI personality is the automated IVR and reservation system of a certain online hotel booking site.   This weekend I remembered that I must book a hotel for tonight in Ottawa and first my preferred login with a well known chain would not work because my account needed to be updated.  I could not think of a better place to do it than the site were I created the account, but no.  I need to call in. Blah.

A quick check of favorite hotels revealed that there were no hotel rooms in the city except for the youth hostel.   Nah.  Keep searching.  And this is when I resorted to using that certain hotel website.

It revealed one hotel other than the hostel and a Motel 6 in a different city, a hotel just across the river in Hull.  So book it now I did.    Maybe.  The status had flashed up, contacting hotel, checking availability, checking payment, registering reservation, constructing email.........

After several minutes it timed out with a less than confidence building message that the website was unsure what happened, it lost connection to its servers, but for me to wait 15 minutes to see if the confirmation email might arrive.

I figure, no, I'll call in.  The automated IVR system there explained..

"Hang on while I try to find booking associated with the phone number you are calling from.

Hmm.. I could not find a reservation associated with that number, do you have another number that it might be under, enter it now or the reservation number."

Now I know a thing or two about telecom networks, and I knew that I was out of the city at a friend's cottage, dialing an 800 number using a cellphone while roaming.  There is an excellent chance that the IVR did not get my true calling partyid, but might have got a ID from a DAL or other facility.  So.. I typed in my cell phone number and hit.. #.

"Hmm.. you seem to have entered the same number that you are calling from and we were already unable to find any bookings with it.  If there is some other number associated..."

Attitude!  The "hmm" made it worse as if the machine was trying to evaluate exactly how to call this user a knucklehead or express pity at the poor malfunctioning, ill-equipped human.

Robots with personalities indeed, I've already had enough of them.

Have a great day, don't take any crap from the machines.