I get an amazing amount of off-topic telephone calls here in the pleasure dome (my office). At least once a day I get a call from some charity or other – mothers against drunk driving, the special Olympics, the fraternal order of police and/or firemen, the make a wish foundation -- the list goes on and on and on. Quite apart from anything else, I simply cannot afford to donate to all of them. Also, sad to relate, many of the organizations to whom I've donated in the past (when I was young and foolish) have turned out to be bogus, so now I restrain myself to directly supporting charities I know and trust. But that's not what I wanted to talk about…
I also get an amazing number of calls from "investment companies" who want me to put my pension funds into all sorts of weird and wonderful schemes. I must receive at least three such calls a week at a minimum. Goodness only knows where they got my name, because I simply don’t do that sort of thing.
The thing is, the call I just received was rather strange. It was a guy's voice and he certainly sounded "hale and hearty" – and human, of course – but there was something odd about him. Every time I said something there was a very noticeable delay (a definite <pause>) before he responded. Also, his responses sounded sort of forced in a way I cannot describe.
At one point I actually said "I'm sorry, but are you a real person or an automated system?" After a <pause> he responded "Ho ho I am a real person of course" (my lack of punctuation is intended to give some feel for the way he said this). The thing was that the way in which he answered didn’t sound like he was surprised to be asked – it was more in the way of a fixed response to one of a list of possible queries.
If I had been better prepared I might have probed further, but I simply said "I'm sorry, I don’t do this sort of thing over the phone," and – after a <pause> – he hung up.
Now, this could just have been a regular nuisance call, but I keep on spinning the conversation over and over in my mind, and the more I think about it the more convinced I become that the voice on the other end of the phone was not being spoken by a living, breathing being. If so, then if this "thing" were to take a Turing Test I'm pretty sure it would pass.
All-in-all, this has left me feeling rather strange and disquieted. Would this be a good time to remind you of my review of Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson?
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