Robots on the Phone

At The Verge, Natt Garun asks:

When did human service workers become Google’s to experiment on?

Over at Six Colors, Jason Snell quotes Natt and further asks:

Does Google think it’s ethical for computers to pretend to be people? Is it right that service workers are now expected to navigate the strange behavior of computer software posing as a human being as a part of their job?

This all seems very unnecessarily hand-wringy to me. OK, I’ll say it: it’s absurd.

Robots have been carrying on conversations with humans on the telephone for decades. It’s so business-as-usual that we now see TV commercials where businesses are claiming as a competitive advantage that they don’t make you talk to robots when you call for service. (“Wait…you’re real?!?”)

When this started, nobody asked when consumers became suitable experiment subjects for the businesses that implemented automated voice menu systems. They just did it and consumers were expected to swallow it in the name of businesses cutting costs. Consumers have been accepting increased automation and decreased human touch in the name of cost cutting for several decades, if not a century, and just now, when someone talks about putting the same power in the hands of individuals using automated assistants, people start to ask “what about the poor call-center workers?” What about the businesses who have to accept these calls?

Oh Please.