Robo-sales

It seems like all I ever do around here is comment on the increased use of robots and A.I. software in the workforce. (But I sure look good doing it!) I’ll try and keep it in check. Nonetheless, this little tidbit caught my eye. It’s from an article in the April 3, 2014 New York Times Book Review called “The Programmed Prospect Before Us.”

Recently, Michael Scherer, a Time magazine bureau chief, received a call from a young lady, Samatha West, asking him if he wanted a deal on health insurance. After she responded to a number of his queries in what sounded like a prerecorded fashion, he asked her point blank whether she was a robot, to which he got the reply, “I am human.” When he repeated the question, the connection was cut off. Samantha West turned out to be a system of recorded messages that were part of a computer program created by the brokers of health insurance.

If this is true, this is such a clumsy application of computer intelligence that it makes me think we have nothing to worry about. Nobody likes talking to robo-software, much less robo-software that claims to be human. It seems these sorts of efforts are designed simply to annoy people. (Note: Read update below for more details on Samantha West.)

Of course, maybe there a kind of spam-mindset going on. “We annoy 100,000 people with bullshit robo-calls but 10 of them actually buy the insurance and we clear our margins.”

The article continues.

The point is not that humans were not involved, but that experts had worked out that far fewer of them needed to be involved to sell a given quantity of health insurance. Orthodox economics tells us that automating such transactions, by lowering the cost of health insurance, will enable many more policies to be sold, or release money for other kinds of spending, thus replacing the jobs lost. But orthodox economics never had to deal with competition between humans and machines.

I’m not sure that final sentence is exactly correct, as a rumination on the tale of John Henry should illustrate, but I get the gist and it’s thought provoking.

Update!
I was intrigued by Samatha West to look up details. It turns out they are a little cloudier than stated above though the concerns raised are legitimate.

Robot-denying telemarketing robot may not actually be a robot.

As Time is now reporting, the telemarketing robot is actually a computer program used by telemarketers outside the United States. According to John Rasman of U.S.-based Premier Health, the system allows English speaking telemarketers with thick non-American accents to sort through leads to find real prospective buyers before passing them off to agents back in the United States. “We’re just contacting people in a way they’re not familiar with,” said Rasman. The human agents who trigger Samantha West’s responses act as brokers for health insurance companies inside the U.S.

So it’s not robots stealing our jobs, it’s those damn foreigners!

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