Here are some deadhead jobs any chatbot could take over right now

And how I got blackmailed by a computerised French lesson

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Robots, image via Shutterstock

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Hello Mister Dabbs, yes? I am calling from Microsoft Windows organisation, yes? I am calling to advise you of a security problem with your Microsoft, yes?"

That's a no.

But I'm bored and could do with a little distraction. I tell him I don't use Windows.

"You have a MacBook, yes?"

I tell him I have a friend with a MacBook. I tell him my friend's name is Norman. I bemoan Norman's dress sense. I describe some of the furnishings in Norman's house. I relate the hilarious anecdote about that time Norman bought a bread-maker.

"Er… I am calling from Microsoft Windows organisation, yes?"

I gently suggest that what he's saying is not true. And given we are already both lying to each other, I decide to compound my earlier fibs by telling him I use only Linux.

Without a pause he hangs up on me. Give the guy some credit, he doesn't waste time on a lost cause when he could be speaking to the next potential mug on his pilfered phone list. He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until you have given him your login and credit card details. He's a veritable (well, figurative) one-person phishing machine.

Come to think of it, you could probably replace him with a literal machine. He's reading from a script, he engages in basic yes/no interaction, and when in doubt he just repeats his opening line. In other words, he's very slightly less human than a chatbot.

Think about it: lonely people already hold conversations with Alexa, so why don't phishers script a few skills so that a voice-AI can make unsolicited phone calls? To ensure the voice sounds even more convincing to those suckers anglophones receiving the calls, you could give it a rich sub-continent accent. If it spoke with a localised posho-style voice like a conventional smart speaker, people will think they're talking to a sat-nav.

Basic journalistic data reporting is already being achieved by robot: think football scores, possession percentages, yards covered and so on, then just automatic insert sport clichés such as "across the park", "massive blow" and "famous win". For Brits reading this, just you wait until General Election night next month as many, if not most, of the live rolling updates you'll see on news sites will almost certainly be compiled, written and fed directly by simple automation scripts without human intervention.

Any predictable routine can be automated. If the process veers away from the routine, it just means you need a more complex flow chart to accommodate other paths. Program those in and – hey presto – you can call the result "artificial intelligence" even though it isn't.

Perhaps one day in the future, robots really will have original ideas and determine their own decision-making processes that haven't already been programmed in. Until then, artificial intelligence is about as intelligent as this one-metre-tall robotic noodle sign I saw recently outside a ramen kiosk.

Dabbsy ramen gif

Click to enlarge

Hey, it does the trick, right? Bouncy giant noodle soup, yum.

So it got me thinking there must be a whole bunch of other crafts, trades and professions that existing AI ought to be able to handle straight away without waiting for the advent of electric sheep. Phishing phone calls from Bangalore are just the start.

I won't deaden your brain with a full listicle but here are three suggestions:

  1. Barista at a chain coffee shop

    My coffee is too hot. Or it's too cold. Or it's too frothy. Maybe there's no froth. They've only half-filled the cup this time. They've switched blend. They've used the wrong milk. Once, my caffe latte was given to me without the caffe. Another time, I was wondering why my coffee tasted sour until I reached the teabag at the bottom.

    The whole point of going in to a chain shop of any kind is that you should already know what to expect. You don't do it in order to subject oneself to the random whims of whichever sleep-deprived goth is sneezing into your reusable cup that morning. Program an AI to do the job and I can be assured of the same dreary crap every time without fail.

  2. Electioneering politician

    OK, an easy win this one, but think about it. During election time, politicians are free to make as many false promises as they like without the risk of contradiction. The future is unchallengeable. All that interviewers can do is challenge what the politicians have said or done in the past. Even if they asked "Are you lying?" the answer would be "No", which might be true or it might not.

    So let's have an AI that spouts the same bollocks without any wetwear stinking out the studio. Literally, it can sit there and say "Bollocks bollocks bollocks" to the camera continuously, and if an interviewer interrupts, it can retort: "If you'll just let me finish? Thank you. Bollocks bollocks bollocks…"

  3. An electrician, heating engineer, plumber or any other domestic utility worker

    Accept a booking; don't turn up; refuse to answer messages asking where the fuck you've got to. Even a child could program an AI to do that.

This much I am happy with. All that bothers me is what we'll lose when real self-thinking chatbots with true AI become a reality. Half the fun of interacting with bots is stumbling across snippets of verbal scripts that could only have been written by a human suffering from emotional ennui and looking for ways to lighten the mood in their windowless office that day.

Like this one that popped up this morning in my daily computer-driven French lesson:

French lesson screenshot

I doubt an AI would bother to write that. It's only binary after all.

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He is struggling with relearning the language 25 years after achieving a diploma at a French university. An even bigger struggle is trying not to come across as Knox from Fox In Socks. @alidabbs

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