Phone Drones: Virtual Agents Answer Customer Service Call of Duty

That a large portion of one?s customer service call are outsourced to India or other exotic locales is old news. We?ve all been patched through to a phone bank half a planet away to speak with someone trained to suppress their native accent and make references to your local weather and high school sports rivalries. Some fast food chains even outsource your drive-up burger order to countries like India where eating cow is verboten to a substantial portion of population.

Lately, tax breaks and a surfeit of college-educated English speakers have attracted blue chip companies like IBM, Shell and Hershey to the Philippines, creating a customer service economy that, due to the 9-hour time difference from its American customers, operates predominately at night.

Companies like MyCyberTwin, however, are anticipating yet another shift in customer service outsourcing ??one that won?t require a legion of nighthawks in Manila, nor pretending to be American ??just human. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, avatars (or, ?virtual agents,? to use industry parlance) can answer complex questions and use rational and logical thinking. Think ?Spock in a Box.?

?By combining sophisticated ?brain? technology with state-of-the-art animation, MyCyberTwin brings a distinct and advanced virtual specialty to businesses,? explains CEO Liesl Capper. The secret sauce behind ?brain technology? is the virtual agents? ability to learn as they go, ?allowing them to consistently get smarter and function at a higher level as time moves on,? Capper adds. NASA has recently implemented the technology suggesting a real-life HAL might not be far behind.

Chat bots have existed in various forms since the mid-60s. MIT?s Joseph Weizenbaum is credited with creating one of the first, ELIZA, a program that used a primitive form of natural language processing to simulate a real conversation with its interlocutor via text-based exchanges. Thousands of so-called ?chatterbots? have spawned since with customer service implementations facilitating millions of monthly ?conversations? (San Francisco-based VirtuOz claims12 million such interactions a month for clients in the Fortune 1000).

But can a virtual agent pass the Turing Test? Developed in 1950 by researcher Alan Turing, the test was originally devised to answer the question ?Can machines think?? and uses natural language conversation with a human as its principle gauge. Though the test has been criticized by such heavy weights as philosopher John Searle for conflating rhetorical manipulation for cognition, the test remains something of a gold standard if only for proving the fallibility of an artificial intelligence?s human interlocutor. The goal of companies like MyCyberTwin isn?t to fool people into thinking their product is human but rather improve the customer experience but interfacing with them in a manner they?re most accustomed ? like humans. As online insurer Esurance proclaims in its current ad campaign ?People when you want them, Technology when you don?t.?

Ultimately, however, most consumers would prefer not to have to communicate with customer service at all, whether that be in Manila or on with HAL on some customer service odyssey. The virtual agent will surely learn this long before the companies who employ — but then again, they can’t hear you scream in virtual space.

Why Do Men Put Their Penises Online?

?To tweet or not to tweet?? ? that should have been the question for former U.S. representative Anthony Weiner whose infamous social media snafu made him and his briefs-ensconced boner a household name synonymous with ?moron.? Not only did Weiner?s foray into softcore porn (and subsequent revelations about ?sexting? with numerous women) provide a wide berth for dick jokes and puns of every stripe (which he?s probably endured since grammar school on account of his name), it cost him his career in politics.

The argument that what one does in one?s private life is should not be subject to public scrutiny went out the window when Weiner made his privates public by inadvertently posting them into his Twitter stream rather than as a direct message to 21-year-old Washington state woman.

It begs the question, ?Why do men put their penises online?? Respond to any ad on Craigslist and, as many can attest, one stands a one in five chance of receiving a poorly-lit jpeg of some dude?s cock. It?s a wonder that no one has started an amateur porn site called ?Craig?s Dicks? comprised exclusively of prick pics culled from the personal ads juggernaut. Chatroulette, the video chat service that randomly pairs participants in two-way tet-a-tets is notorious as veritable museum of male masturbation.The site rapidly cycles through chat pairings with either user given the option to hit ?next? and move on to another chat ? usually within seconds. After cycling through eight live images of users in front of their web cams ? Bingo! ? a crotch shot at the ready.

In the pantheon of paraphilias, exhibitionism is perhaps the most benign though clinicians describe it as ?coercive? since it usually involves forcibly imposing one?s genitalia into another line of sight without their consent. The notion of an old-school trench coat-clad flasher is damn near quaint compared to the lone gunman taking aim at a webcam.

Albeit, confronting an exhibitionist in the flesh is surely a harrowing experience, however, it does permit one the ability to express one?s revulsion, reciprocate with bodily harm or perhaps even flash back (any of which, may or may not be the offenders goal). The online penis parader, however, uses social media to broadcast their exhibitionism from the comfort of their own homes. It combines the privacy end-users of porn expect from direct delivery of content to their laptops (no more embarrassing visits to the ?adult? section of the video store ? hell, for that matter, no more video stores!) with the inversely proportionate ability to broadcast oneself freely, cheaply and nakedly to millions with relative anonymity and without retribution.

This is perhaps one reason that everyone from media pundits to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi came down so, um, hard on Anthony?s weiner. It was if he received the aggregate slap back awaiting all the faceless exhibitionists lurking on the Internet. Consider his monkey spanked. To gauge the size of your “e-penis” click this humorous if NSFW link, which uses your Twitter handle to measure your size online.

Update: Carlos Danger. ‘Nuff said.