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All she wanted was to organise a newspaper subscription (not from this company) for a relative in aged care. Explaining this, and that she did not have an existing account, the robot on the phone responded that it operated best with "limited information".
Forget artificial intelligence, this was artificial incompetence - the inability to deal with anything even slightly out of the ordinary.
A human would have - indeed, eventually did - had the matter sorted in a fraction of the time. But the companies employing these bots aren't interested in your time. They just want to save their own because time is money.
Well, time is also our money. We resent wasting it trying to explain our slightly complex problems to an uncomprehending bot. When it responds for the fifth time with "Sorry, I didn't catch that. Can you repeat it?", the temptation is to hurl the phone into the garden.
Banks are the worst. They place countless obstacles between the customer and a human who can help.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the struggle to have new cards issued after losing a wallet. When one (but not the other) did finally arrive, it didn't work. So I had to call the bank again. The endless loop of preprogrammed messages and requests for codes and numbers I did not have was infuriating. An hour of my time lost before I finally spoke to a human - and then another half an hour as they tried to fix the problem.
Two days later, and the card stopped working again. The whole process of trying to speak to a human began anew, along with telling the whole story over again. I've had tooth extractions less painful. As I write this, the issue is yet to be resolved but at least a human is on the case and has promised to call once it is. There's an email to the CEO drafted and ready to go should this not happen.
All up, at least half a day of my productivity has been lost because the bank, whose thumping profit is eye-watering, makes it almost impossible to communicate the problem directly to a human.
Bots have become a bane of modern life. And they're likely to get worse as corporations find news ways to shed staff and torment customers with so-called AI. About this time last year, a survey in the US found 72 per cent of respondents regarded dealing with chatbots a complete waste of time.
More than half said dealing with a human resolved their problem faster and resulted in a much better customer experience. Despite this antipathy to AI, some companies, including the major low-cost Frontier airline, are doing away with human interaction entirely. Bad call, I say.
Similar surveys in the UK reveal much the same frustration. In Australia in the days after Optus suffered its massive data breach last year, customers were incensed when the company's chatbots failed to comprehend their questions about whether their personal details had been compromised. The departure of CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin after the November 8 outage debacle is an opportunity for the company to review its practices, including its use of bots in place of humans.
There's plenty of fear out there about the rise of AI and its implications for the future.
What corporations, which are becoming addicted to AI and bots, need to fear is much more immediate. Customers will desert them if they make it impossible to have issues resolved quickly with human help.
The company which offers bot-free service will win.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you been frustrated with bots failing to understand your inquiry or problem? Would you consider changing banks if you found one that had humans pick up the phone? Would you rather wait on the line for a human than risk an interaction with a bot? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- The federal government will identify critical systems and boost the skills of public servants as part of a strategy to upgrade its defences against cyber attack. Little more than a week after the nation's biggest port operator DP World was forced to shut down its operations after its systems were hacked, Cyber Security Minister Clare O'Neil has detailed plans to strengthen the government's "digital armour".
- Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter, whom President Jimmy Carter called "an extension of myself", has died aged 96. She passed peacefully on Sunday with her family by her side, a statement from the Carter Centre said.
- Unions have slammed the mining sector for fighting against new workplace laws, saying it would only impact a minute fraction of their combined $300 billion profit last financial year. Mining profits had jumped almost 200 per cent in the past decade while wages had gone backwards six per cent in real terms, Australian Council of Trade Unions research found.
THEY SAID IT: "The sad thing about artificial intelligence is that it lacks artifice and therefore intelligence." - Jean Baudrillard
YOU SAID IT: In Albanese's absence, Labor let Dutton take charge.
David writes: "Labor did cede the stage to Dutton and in so doing will continue to bleed thinking people's support while ever it seeks to match the alleged 'toughness' of the Duttons of this world. Given the egregious treatment meted out to asylum seekers under the 'Pacific solution', people tired of the hairy-chested political approach and ditched Morrison's mob. Resolutely standing up to Dutton on matters of important principle is the thing to do. Caving in on this and whistleblower trials is supine and pathetic. Albo was right to repair international relations after the mess left by Morrison's mob, and necessitated the travel, but now is the time to focus on national issues."
"Labor did lose control last week," writes John. "Dutton is by nature a bully and Marles was too weak to stand up to him. Marles and a few other Labor MPs (who?) actually went to Dutton's office and agreed with him on principles that were against Labor policy! The principles are easy. Human rights apply to both citizens and non-citizens, it'd be the far right who disagree with that. The right also believe in mandatory sentencing. What has been proposed here is humiliating (ankle bracelets, regular reporting to police, five years if you fail to comply) whatever the offence committed. Yes, Labor has behaved very badly here and this should be reversed as soon as possible."
Arthur writes: "It is grossly unfair to keep anyone in detention after they have served their time in jail. In effect keeping an offender in jail after serving their time is saying the sentence was too short and that the judge has failed to impose an appropriate sentence. Maybe it is time to get rid of question time in Parliament and have a strict code of conduct for parliamentarians."
"It seems Labor's way was to take the LNP's approach," writes Chris. "That's a knee-jerk reaction, to get out of the bind it found itself in. Responding to the right wing media morons and appearing to be in control allows us to demonise others. Sadly, some think this is always OK and it is a winner with a narrow voting element who attuned only to the negative headlines. Somewhere along the way it will get sorted out - maybe?"
Jacqui from Victoria writes: "The politics of fear has taken deep root in Australia and motormouth Dutton will just keep to this playbook until someone really stands up to him. And stands firm different values! Loudly! Come on, Labor, tell us what you believe: do not be cowed by bullies."
"It was obvious Deputy PM Richard Marles was a poor public performer and an unconvincing acting PM material when Labor was in opposition before the last election," writes John from Newcastle. "I'd suggest that if Jim Chalmers was Deputy PM, last week's train wreck would not have occurred."
Marilyn writes: "It was a shameful week in Parliament. Dutton's dog whistling and Labor's capitulation leading to hasty and reactive legislation to further punish detainees was highly regrettable. It's highly likely that the next federal election will see even more independents elected to Parliament. Independents seem to be the only group with any integrity at all nowadays."
"Not sure whether Labor lost control or, Dutton bulldozed his way into setting the agenda with an avalanche of invective," writes Anita. "Can he keep up such anger-driven outbursts indefinitely? That's what the bookies are asking. I hated the tone, which set my teeth on edge. Maybe others have a heightened capacity for absorbing angry outbursts. Perhaps their ears have been attuned by listening to various shock-jocks over the years? Don't know. Maybe it's just me."
Jennifer writes: "The PM needs to take the lead and stop allowing Dutton to set the agenda. He needs to use the most capable members of his party more effectively (eg Clare O'Neil, Jason Clare, Jim Chambers, Penny Wong and perhaps Plibersek), rather than holding them back. The team needs to be strong, not hamstrung. He needs to sideline dead weight and incompetence that undermines him and the party on so many fronts (Marles) and he needs to allow harder heads than his to guide him politically, as well as to ensure he sticks to his principles. He needs to get the jump on Dutton and set the agenda himself, rather than be convinced to focus on things that harm both him and his party, not to mention their agenda."
"Anything the Liberal Party says or does in relation to immigration/acceptance of refugees is, in my mind, suspect, possibly to the point of being illegal," writes Sue. "Your use of the term 'immigration' is a case in point. What does the word mean now to everyday Australians? The Liberal Party deliberately obfuscated the meaning by describing refugees as 'illegal immigrants', way back, and now almost any immigrant is seen as someone trying to come to Australia without any paperwork. This avoids having the term refugees, and our treatment of them, bandied about in the press. We have treated refugees appallingly. Dutton should join up with Hanson. They could call themselves the White Australia Party and be done with it! At least it would reflect a degree of honesty about their political stance."
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