One thing about replacing a person with a computer, business managers say, is computers don’t take sick days.
Last week I found out they don’t sleep either.
It all started as we planned our annual Christmas trip to Roanoke, Virginia, to visit our niece, Sarah, her husband, Adrian, and their three little ones: a daughter going on 4 and twin sons not quite 2. Sarah’s a dentist, Adrian a pharmacist, and their house a zoo. We love being there. Their daughter, Corinne, whom everyone calls Coco, won our hearts the first time we saw her.
I asked Sarah for some toy suggestions and, ever the dutiful mommy, she came up with something educational, the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-pillar. She said we could get it at target.com.
Now, typically I would have ignored that last part and headed off to the local Target store to check out the thing before I bought it. But, even at my advanced age, I am taking more risks. Hadn’t I just Ubered all over New York City? “I can do this,” I thought.
And I did. I not only ordered the Code-a-pillar online but added the Code-a-pillar Silly Sounds and Lights Expansion Pack. Bet Sarah didn’t even know that existed.
I was feeling pretty good when the confirmation notice came to my email and even better when delivery info followed. Even when an email informed me the second item, the Expansion Pack, might be delayed and arrive later, I was unperturbed. If it were delivered after our trip, I could just send it off when I got it. All good.
But the next day I awoke to find two more emails on the matter. The first told me my item would arrive on Jan. 2 and if that were okay with me, please hit the red “Confirm” button. The second said my order had been cancelled because I failed to hit the red “Confirm” button in time.
But here’s the rub. That first email landed in my inbox at 12:53 a.m., when, surprise, surprise, I was sleeping. The second one showed up at 4:38 a.m. the same day, when, guess what, I was still sleeping.
As ridiculous as this was, normally I would simply smirk at being jerked around by a computer yet another time and shrug it off. I assumed it was a computer sending those emails because even the most insensitive, incompetent human being would not have expected a response from a customer in the middle of the night.
But there was a “help” button at the end of the second email, and I thought “what the heck.”
I wound up in a “chat” with, interestingly, someone named Sara. At least I think it was someone named Sara. It also could have been a computer. I got a suitable amount of “mea culpas” for my troubles but not much else.
“Sara” said she would inform the customer relations people. Like there actually are customer relations “people.”
The only thing you can count on when it comes to Artificial Intelligence, I thought, is the “artificial” part. The “intelligence” part is highly debatable.
I also could not help thinking about a run-in a good friend of mine had a few years ago with a computer. His wife asked him to pay their electric bill online, which he did. In paying the $72.00 bill, however, he failed to hit a decimal point. But what did the computer care? It went ahead and deducted $7,200 from their checking account.
Except there wasn’t $7,200 in their checking account.
No problem. The computer at the bank, which knew they had overdraft protection, went ahead and covered the entire amount and then wrote them a personal loan for the difference.
My friend eventually got it straightened out, but it took the best part of a day. And every ounce of patience he could muster.
Makes me think of an old joke about a guy who invents a computerized robot that can communicate verbally. He programs it to do odd jobs and sends it out into the neighborhood figuring he’s going to make a fortune. It rings a doorbell and when a man opens the door, the robot says, “I am a robot. I do odd jobs. Is there something I can do for you?” The man is suitably impressed. “Can you paint my porch?” he asks. “Of course,” the robot answers, and the man hands him a can of green paint. In a matter of minutes, the robot rings the doorbell again. “All done,” he tells the man. “But it’s not a Porsche. It’s a BMW.”
Can’t wait for those driverless cars.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week for Greater Pittston Progress. Look for his blogs online at pittstonprogress.com.