Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have each expressed their belief that Artificial Intelligence may be the most dangerous existential threat to the survival of the human race. For decades, Artificial Intelligence has been depicted in science fiction, television and film. Sometimes it’s a benevolent presence, like R2D2 and 3CPO in Star Wars, Data in Star Trek or Rags the dog in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” However, more often than not Artificial Intelligence lurks as a menacing and darkly malevolent force in films like 2001- A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, as well as in television series like Battlestar Glactica.
Who can forget this classic showdown between man and machine in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001- A Space Odyssey.”
Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Dave: What’s the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?
My own troubled history with AI dates back as far as I can recall. It begins with me trying and failing to draw a diagonal line on an Etch-A-Sketch that only drew vertical and horizontal lines. Then there was the very first video game “Pong.” It was a game of virtual ping pong which consisted of a dot bouncing back and forth across the television screen. Hours of good, clean late night stoner fun. But I couldn’t even get that right. Got crushed each time I played. Do I even have to mention “The Clapper?” Lately my dysfunctional relationships with AI include contentious exchanges between me and the disembodied androgynous voices emanating from my GPS and my vehicle’s Blue Tooth interface. Also now I have both Alexa and Siri to contend with. I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel like having a conversation with my devices every time I turn around. That super perky upbeat cheerfulness is just too much in these nihilistic times, especially before I’ve had my coffee.
Today I burned up an hour of what’s left of my mortal existence on this planet trying to convince a series of robot overlords that I need to speak with an actual human being in customer service to schedule an appointment. It’s like passing through the Seven Circles Of Hell, the Bardo and Purgatory just to get another sentient being on the other end of the line. Today’s interaction involved a protracted struggle just to utter a simple phrase a robot would comprehend.
Robot: “Thank you for contacting customer service. You can talk to me like a real person. Ask me anything. For example, you can say “How much credit do I have available? When is my next payment due? Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?
Me: “I need to speak with a customer service representative.”
Lots of background noise, whirring, clicking and popping as if somebody is typing a transcript of my request.
Robot: “I’m sorry. I did not understand you. Ask me anything. For example, you can say: “How can I buy the entire boxed DVD set of Battlestar Galactica? Do you know the way to San Jose?”
Me: ” I need to speak with a customer service representative.”
More popping, clicking, buzzing, whirring, typing noises.
And so, on and on we went, until I was a jibbering idiot barking out monosyllabic commands like a drunk calling out for more whiskey at closing time.
Robot: “I’m sorry. I did not understand you. Let me connect you to a Customer Service representative. This call may be monitored.”
Customer Service Representative: “Hello. This is Mathew. For security purposes, what is your Service Contract number?”
Me: I recite an unintelligibly long string of alpha numeric code.
Customer Service Representative: “I’m sorry, but that contract has expired.”
Me: “No. There must be some mistake. I have the Service Contract right here in front of me and it doesn’t expire for another six weeks. May I please speak with a supervisor?”
Customer Service Representative: “Absolutely. Please wait while I transfer your call.”
Five minutes of waiting while insipid music blasts the shit out of my ear drum.
Customer Service Robot Supervisor: “Thank you for contacting customer service. You can talk to me like a real person. Ask me anything. For example, you can say “How much credit do I have available? When is my next payment due? Do you wanna dance under the moonlight?
ME: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I’m sorry, Mike. I’m afraid I can’t do that.