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BOFH discovers Voice Recognition

Is it your floor that has the Gas Leak?

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Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Episode 11 BOFH 2000: Chapter 11

"Look at this baby," I say to the PFY, with more than a little bit of pride, indicating a PC with an afro of wires and parts spewing from its open lid.

"Yep, you've stuffed that one up alright - they won't be using THAT machine for a long time!" the PFY agrees cheerily.

"What?!"

"That PC - You've rooted it up completely!"

"It's not rooted, it's ready for work!"

"Anchor work? Doorstop work?" the PFY asks unkindly.

"NO, it can do our JOB for us!"

"Bollocks!" the PFY responds, as well he should, from past experience with rash statements like this.

"Five quid says it will!"

"Ten says it won't!"

"You're on! Phone this number," I respond, pointing to a label on the internals of a phone in the heart of the tangle.

The PFY dutifully phones and a ring sound emerges from the heart of the machine.

"Hello, Networks and Systems, how may I help?" the PFY's voice asks.

"Hello?" the PFY responds.

"Networks and Systems, how may I help?" the PFY's voice again asks.

A penny drops in the PFY's brain. "You've put me into a Speech Recog IVR System!" he gasps.

"I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure what you mean, could you rephrase that please?" the PFY's voice continues.

"Uh, I've got a problem with my system."

"You have a problem with your system?"

"Yes it's not booting properly."

"You say it's not booting properly?"

"It's an Eliza program!" the PFY gasps.

"You have a problem with your Eliza Programme?"

"No, it's my hard disk!"

"It's your hard disk?"

"Yes, it's making funny noises"

"Your hard disk is making funny noises?"

"Hey!" the PFY comments, covering the mouthpiece. "This thing has history!"

"Of course!" I respond, "But even the simplest Eliza's had that!"

"It'll get a bit tedious if it only asks questions. The callers are bound to figure it out..."

"Don't be silly - there's more to it than that, just continue - before it times out."

"Yes, my hard disk is making funny noises!"

"How long has this been happening?"

"Phase Two," I murmur, "Information gathering. Currently there's only three possible questions: 'How long has this been happening?'; 'Has anyone else had this problem?'; and 'Is it your floor that has the Gas Leak?'"

"Gas Leak?"

"Yeah, I couldn't think of a third question, but I figured that that would end the call quickly."

"A couple of hours," the PFY says.

"It's been happening a couple of hours? Hmmm. Was there any diagnostic message?"

"No" the PFY comments.

"Well it SOUNDS like a hard disk problem..."

"Duh.." the PFY comments, rolling his eyes.

"Which is probably caused by...."

The sounds of hefty random-access disk activity clatter come from the internals of the machine.

"...Resonant Harmonic Distortion."

The Machine leaves a decent interval for DUMMY MODE to engage before continuing.

"...Although it's difficult to tell for certain in these cases."

"RESONANT HARMONIC DISTORTION! WHAT A LOAD OF BOLLOCKS!"

"Woopsy!" I cry "Bollocks is a Mode-Change Trigger Phrase"

"It's not uncommon to find Harmonic Resonance causing... >clatter< ...electronic distortion in Data Transfers..."

"Mode Change?" the PFU asks, mouthpiece covered.

"..although it could be a network file share giving spurious errors. What was your username, and I'll check those out?"

"AH! Aggression mode-change. Like I'd give it my username!" the PFY murmurs.

"You'd better, or it'll use the username of the owner of the phone line."

"This thing's got access to Caller ID as well?" the PFY cries, impressed.

"Caller ID is the tip of the iceberg! It's got your HR records, your car park number, your voicemail box, and your browsing history. Mention 'You Wankers' or some other trigger phrase one more time and it'll send a list of your top 10 web pages to your boss - if they're in the 'dodgy list'. Mention it twice, it schedules a job for a random number of minutes after 2am, then orders Pizzas and Minicabs round to your home address!"

"So if it's got access to that, why does it ask for a username?"

"Just being thorough. And for historic reasons of course."

The PFY gives the username of some soon-to-be poor bastard in accounts and mentions a couple of trigger phrases for good measure.

"Just stress-testing the application," he murmurs.

"That's another thing I almost - Voice stress detection!"

"Voice stress, AND a pretty good Recog. How does it work?"

"Well the Speech Recog's a piece of turd, but luckily the technical vocab required is fairly small, so it's pretty accurate. And the reason people call us is always fairly much the same, so it works out pretty well. The Stress detection is used to see how quickly you get wound up and stashes it, along with the conversation, for our future reference..."

"Ok" the machine responds "I think we may have sorted this problem out..."

"I.e. deleted all your shared files, changed your password to WONKER and arranged to have your car towed," I comment.

"...although it may take an hour or so for the System synchronisations to get propagated to your desktop."

"And there's the sign-off. So, what do you think?"

"It doesn't sound very dynamic."

"Dynamism - if it's a real word - is overrated," I respond. "Anyway, successful demo complete, time for my lunch!"

. . .

Seconds later, I'm wandering past The Boss' office when he calls me in.

"My Application's frozen!" he sniffs.

"Oh, I'm actually on my way out, but... you can get the PFY on.... >scribble< ..this number."

"Right."

"Oh, and could you tell him those passwords he was looking for were: >scribble< Yew Anchors, >scribble< Ute Ossers, and >scribe-scribe< Far Queue. If you could just pass that on..."

BONUS! ®

BOFH is owned by Simon Travaglia: don't mess with his copyright

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