The Washington Post

Artificial stupidity. You know those ‘people’ who call you about those ‘prizes’? Right.

(Eric Shansby)

The other day, my phone told me I had missed a call, but there was no voice mail. So I called the number back, only to be informed it was not a working number. That seemed strange, but not as strange as what happened the following day when I got a call from the same number and answered it.

Perky Woman’s Voice: I have great news from DirectBuy. You are a finalist for a grand prize of a $50,000 home makeover!

Me: Really?

PWV: Yes! Congratulations!

Me: Okay, but how many finalists are there? I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but there’s a difference between being in the Final Four and being in the Round of 64, which includes obscure play-in schools like the Elmer S. Mednick College of Applied Dentistry.

(Suspiciously long pause.)

PWV: It is true you are a finalist. We also have free vacation getaways to Las Vegas and other top destinations.

Me: Uh. Why the ... big ... pause? Are you a bear? Ha-ha.

(Suspiciously long pause)

PWV: I am with DirectBuy. Are you a DirectBuy drive-by member?

Me: Okay, wait a minute. You are a robot, aren’t you?

PWV: I am a real person.

Me: This is an interesting ontological question. I am thinking you were once a real person when you recited the dictionary into a computer, ergo the “you” I am speaking to can truthfully affirm her realness at the time she uttered the words, but that I am actually speaking to a sophisticated sound-packet analysis and retrieval unit. Are you sure you are not a robot?

(Lo-o-o-ong pause.)

PWV: I am a real person, speaking to you remotely.

Me: What the heck does that even mean? Okay, which president freed the slaves?

PWV: Sir, that is irrelevant.

Me: Ooh, you are good!

PWV: Thank you.

Me: I’m thinking you are a robot who is programmed to make the initial approach in a voice that is comfortable and familiar to Americans, not one that arouses suspicions and even triggers latent, ugly xenophobia. Once you have qualified me by establishing that I am an adult with discretionary income, you will switch me to a current human who will speak in a perfectly intelligent and cordial way, but also with telltale melodic intonation, like that Malaysian transport minister who everyone now hates. AmIrightoramIright?

PWV: Sir, that is irrelevant.

Me: Okay, here’s the deal. I promise I will buy six of anything and everything you are selling, but first you have to answer a question of mine, okay?

PWV: I’ll be happy to help you if I can.

Me: Complete this very simple phrase: “Who put the bomp in the bomp sh-bomp sh-bomp, who put the ram in the …”

(Very, very, very long pause.)

PWV: That’s irrelevant, sir.

Me: I think my work here is done. (Click.)

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