Tuesday, April 28, 2015

 

The Robot Revolution is Here

The revolution didn't come with autonomous drones firing tear gas into a crowd, it came quietly, without fanfare or mention on the Six O'clock News.
I tried to make an appointment with Quest Diagnostics for my semi-annual routine blood tests. The website was not working properly and kept giving me errors. I called the toll free number, which, if you have ever tried to do anything via phone these days, was a tedious and frustrating experience. When I asked the robotic voice if I could "speak to a person," I was informed that this option was not available. Seriously, "option not available." While certainly, advances in voice recognition and "machine intelligence" have been made, I still should have been able to speak to an actual person.
The nearest office was around two miles away, so I drove over to try and make an appointment in person.
"I'm sorry, the appointments are made by a third party, and we don't have access to it," she said, handing me a sticky note with the phone number and website printed thereupon.
After I finished screaming obscenities at the poor woman, (woman? she looked to be about twenty) I got in my vehicle and returned to the domicile. Whereupon I was able to make an appointment in about five minutes. Why my earlier attempt failed, I cannot say. The screens the second time around were completely different from the ones earlier. Was or is there an earlier version of the website still on the net, unbeknownst to current webmaster and corporate management?
All of this horse pucky aside, Quest Diagnostics is one of the worst companies in the world, both to be a customer of, and, to work for. I have inside information on this. A friend of mine has worked there for almost twenty years, has weeks and weeks of vacation time, which is always a struggle to get them to approve. They are currently trying to force her to quit, giving her increasing responsibilities, and not filling job vacancies of people who got frustrated and quit.She is stubborn, though, and refuses to give in. However, the stress may be killing her.
In the local office where I attempted to make the appointment, there was no receptionist. The phlebotomist(s) are forced to do everything, as well as draw blood. This makes it a very stressful work environment, because Quest, in their infinite greed, do not hire adequate staff, and this is why they are able to undercut other labs, and become a virtual monopoly, and the only lab that my insurance will cover.
I'll save my tirade about Health Plan of Nevada for another day.
So, what does this have to do with a Robot Revolution? Everything. It's here, there is some kind of robotic presence in every piece of consumer electronics, we use a virtual AI to give us directions when we're on vacation, every phone call to a corporation has to go through some kind of robotic AI phone system, most  of which don't work very well. I wonder how many companies are like Quest, where there is no option to speak to a person? I know Fedex has the robot operator, but if you press zero enough times, you do get through to an actual human. If you scream obscenities at it, it hangs up on you, so it's smart enough to recognize that.
The "Internet of Things" is the next automation hurdle. So called "Smart Phones" are ubiquitous, (I'm still resisting this, I can't see spending $600 on a goddam phone) and it's just a matter of time before your refrigerator will call the grocery to have milk delivered.
I went to my bank because I was having some issue with my account, they sat me down in a little room with desk and a telephone and instructed me to "call the 800 number" as they couldn't be bothered to help me, even though I drove all the way across town to try and resolve the issue. Needless to say, I no longer bank with those assholes.
The robots are here, lurking behind toll free numbers and automated fulfillment systems. They don't look like C3PO or R2D2, they don't walk around on two legs, or roll on wheels, they are invisible, they are apps running on your phone, they are a presence on a corporate website. They are taking over the world, and we are letting them.

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