Vexations and Conundrum – December 2023

Fake Smart

I have encountered a new frustration that would not have existed years ago. I’m sure many of you have run into this issue as well. Businesses have reduced personnel and automated functions. Obstacles now stand in the way of getting things accomplished.

For example, your bank statement arrives and there is a charge for service that you hadn’t noticed before. You really would like to speak to someone about this new expense.

My husband always tells me, “Call someone at the bank and they can fix this,” as he remembers the days when he was friends with his loan officer and the teller at his bank. The people were employed for extended periods of time, and he knew their families. His mind remains in the era of personal service. Things have changed, and not for the better.

Instead of making a quick phone call and talking with a lovely personality, one now encounters The Menu. The menu is a robotic listing of issues you may need addressed. You are to press a number corresponding with your issue and whoosh to another recording. My first problem is that the menu almost never lists the problem I am having. After I’ve listened to about ten options, I forget which choice was closest to my current dilemma and I must hang up and dial in again. It’s enough to give one a case of the screaming-meemies.

I select a subject that sounds related to my problem and press the number for that help. Lo and behold, the next recording directs me to an online internet address which has a helpful Q&A of frequently encountered problems, none of which is mine. My frustration grows and curse words flow from my lips, aimed at a distant recorded voice, meant to sound human and helpful. It sounds more like it is taunting me in a horror movie.

I ponder how I can sneak around this mechanized robotic system. Then I remember that the desire to purchase new services is always high on the list of menu options. Sales personnel still exist as they are a money-making arm of the business. I push the number to buy new services and spend money. A real live person greets me and warmth rushes through my body. Human contact! These people want to get you off the line so they can sell, and they will happily transfer you to someone who can help you. At least that has been my experience.

Airlines are transitioning to similar mechanization. One major airline now wants you to pay a charge to use a human agent as opposed to making your own travel reservations online. This “productivity push” to us, the customers, sneaked up on us, and we hardly noticed that we were now travel agents and bank tellers, but without the training or pay. These changes were facilitated by AI, artificial intelligence.

So many jobs are being eliminated that I feel sorry for young people who formerly started their resume by taking entry level jobs so they could prove they were dependable workers. Those jobs are being phased out.

Striking workers in the movie business are concerned about artificial intelligence taking their jobs. One day this might happen. Right now, I find artificial intelligence is so stupid in its infancy that it is not a threat to anything except not solving my problems.

A final example comes to mind. When texting someone and words are filled in by AI to make typing faster, beware. For instance, my last name auto-corrects to “panties.” I can’t tell you how embarrassing this has proven in the past, until I learned to carefully double-check texts before sending.

As we come to the end of 2023 and you send out those end-of-year greetings, facilitated by a computer guiding your typing, beware that your “Happy Holidays!” greeting doesn’t curse your recipient with a wish that their new year be filled with something hideous.

May your 2024 be filled with a smarter artificial intelligence which may have learned from its mistakes!

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Katina Pontikes
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