Business idea: The Anti-Telemarketer

Not sure how the telemarketing scene is evolving elsewhere but in my city, I’m receiving about 2-3 telemarketing calls a day.  More than half are scams.  It’s getting annoying.

So I thought I’d come up with a solution.

Not long ago, Google debuted its Duplex AI.  This AI assistant is capable of navigating phone calls.  It’s pretty darn amazing.  If you’ve yet to see it, here’s a link:

 

So it looks like Google’s new AI assistant is going to be capable of a whole host of tasks, perhaps even handling telemarketers.  Here’s what I’m envisioning:

When your phone rings and you see a number you don’t recognize, feel free to let your AI assistant answer the call for you.  If it turns out to be a legitimate call and someone you’d like to speak with, your AI should be able to navigate that conversation quickly and effectively.  Perhaps your phone would ring a second time with the AI alerting you with who the caller is and what they’re looking for.  If, however, it wasn’t someone you wanted to talk to, the AI assistant would know how to navigate those calls as well.

For all the calls that you don’t want to answer, let’s put them in 3 categories.  First would be legitimate calls that you just don’t want to answer for whatever reason.  Maybe you’re hanging out on a beach with your friends over the weekend and your boss is calling… probably about those TPS reports.  Your AI assistant can let your boss know that you’re currently unavailable, take a message, and say that you’ll return that message at your earliest convenience.  Or maybe it’s a call that you’d like to take but you’re in the middle of something important.  Whatever the case may be, the AI should be able to navigate these conversations well enough to pass along a message.

The second category would be legitimate telemarketers.  We’re talking about legitimate businesses reaching out for cold sales or surveys.  For these, perhaps your AI assistant would know which businesses you have accounts with to better understand which promotions you might actually be interested in.  Rather than you having to go through the whole phone call to find out what the actual pitch is, your assistant could navigate that conversation and turn it into a brief text message for you.  For everything else, the assistant could quickly and politely say that you’re not interested, and request that you be taken off their call list.

The third category, and the one that inspired this idea, is the scam-based telemarketers.  Fuck those guys.  This week alone I’ve received:

  • Calls from places like Burundi, Somolia, Samoa, Seychelles, and Kalamazoo.  As I understand it, the calls hang-up before you can answer.  When you call back, you’re charged for your time on that call.
  • Calls from China telling me that I’m in big trouble relating to real estate purchases and government corruption.
  • Calls telling me that I’ve been busted for tax evasion and I need to reach out to my local tax office immediately.

Each is a robo-call, meaning that their process of generating leads is full automated and requires very few resources on their part.  My approach has been to pick up the calls and to hang up as soon as I recognize what it is.  But it’s not much of a solution as the calls keep arriving.  They might even be increasing in volume.  So how exactly do you fight back?

This idea is inspired by a TED Talk I saw a while back.  The speaker was being solicited by an email scammer.  Something to the effect of the Nigerian princess scam but it had to do with gold bullion, if I remember correctly.  The speaker, like most of us, was able to pick up on the scam rather quickly.  But rather than ignore, he thought he’d engage with the person on the other end for some fun. The email chain became rather entertaining as the speaker was able to get the scammer to use some questionable ‘code words’ in their communications.  At the end of the day, the speaker did this because he knew that for every minute this scammer spent targeting him, was a minute he wouldn’t be able to spend targeting someone else.  I appreciate his efforts as I’ve attempted the same thing… but there has to be a better way.  Enter Google Duplex.

Imagine that tax-scam robo-call running into your AI assistant:

Robo-call: “The reason behind this call is to notify you that we have registered a criminal case against your name concerning a tax evasion and tax fraud in the federal court house.  So if you want any further information about this case, please press 1.   If we don’t receive a call from your side, please be prepared to face the legal consequences, as the issue of tax is extremely serious and time-sensitive. So have a blessed time. ”

AI: “1”

Scammer: “(In a thick Indian accent) Hi my name is Nicky Johnson, how may I help you today?”

AI: “Hi, I received a call today about owing some taxes and I’d like to pay them before I get in trouble”

Scammer: “Thank you for calling.  This is a very urgent matter and we need to resolve it quickly before you’re forced to pay any penalties.”

AI: “Thank you so much for letting me know.  What do we do next?”

Scammer: “Can I start with your name and social security number?”

AI: “which name?”

Scammer: “Your first and last name, and your social security number”

AI: “OK.  Sure, but which one?”

Scammer: “What is your first name?”

AI: “Hue”

Scammer: “And your last name”

AI: “Jazz”

Scammer: “Thank you Mr. Hue Jazz.  Now may I have your social security number?”

AI: “Which one?”

Scammer: “Your social security number, sir.  It’s 9 digits and on all your tax filings”

AI: “Oh, OK”

Scammer: “Do you have it sir?”

AI: “Have what?”

Scammer: “Your social security number”

AI: “I don’t know what that is”

Scammer: “Never mind sir, we can proceed without it.”

AI: “What?”

Scammer: “We need to receive payment as soon as possible to avoid putting a lien on your assets.  I can walk you through that now.”

AI: “OK”

Scammer: “To make a payment, you’ll have to go to our website.  Do you have a computer in front of you?”

AI: “Yes”

Scammer: “The website is http://www.-”

AI: “Is that an upper-case WWW or a lower case www?”

Scammer: “It doesn’t matter, both will work”

AI: “OK.  Do I need internet for this to work?  I don’t think this computer has internet.”

Scammer: “Yes you will need internet.  Do you have a computer that has internet?”

AI: “Yes, but I’ll have to start it up.  You don’t mind waiting do you?”

Scammer: “No, that is OK.”

AI: Thanks, it’ll just take a few minutes”

(few minutes passes)

Scammer: “Is your computer ready”

AI: “Not yet.”

(few more minutes passes)

Scammer: “Ready now?”

AI: “Almost.”

(few more minutes passes)

Scammer: “Sir, your computer should be ready by now.  Are you sure it’s working?”

AI: “Not sure.  The screen is still black.  Can you help me fix my computer?

 

I’m not a very vengeful person, but something about this just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.  The reality is that you could customize your AI to give a variety of answers and drag the conversation out in all sorts of entertaining directions.  The best part though, is that for every minute they’re engaging with your AI, they’re not scamming someone else.  If enough people took this approach, it would shift the balance of power.  I can’t imagine people would be all too keen to put the resources into a scam-based call center knowing that 99% of their leads were AI assistants just messing with them.

While it would be fun to call this the ultimate solution to telemarketing and over-the-phone scams, it’s not.  This would be a brilliant solution to the current mode of telemarketing and over-the-phone scams but the situation would evolve.  The most natural evolution I can think of is the scammers and telemarketers switching over to a Google Duplex-esque robo-call.  But if it’s your Google Duplex AI Assistant that is answering the calls… it becomes AI VS. AI.  I’d take a front row seat to that…

Solution to the UFC’s Injury Problem

Last week, I was all pumped up about seeing Max Holloway Vs. Brian Ortega.  Earlier in the week, it looked like Holloway was dealing with some pretty severe concussion symptoms and was pulled from the fight.  Dana White tried to get Ortega to fight Jeremy Stephens for an interim belt but it was too last minute for Ortega so the fight was called off.

How many times have we seen a title fight cancelled in the final stretch because of an injury, or a bad weight cut, or doping.. or whatever.  I think it’s time to recognize that this is the kind of a sport where you put your body through so much during your fight prep, that just making it to the cage requires a bit of luck.  And when a fighter has to bow out, their opponent and fans suffer too.  The fans miss out on the biggest fight of the night while the fighter who did make it through is left without an opponent.

Over the last few years, Dana White has managed to save a few of these events by pulling up contenders from the under-card (Joe Soto) or a future card (Al Iaquinta).  It’s all very last-minute though, and the original fighter doesn’t always accept that fight.  In the case of Chad Mendes as a last minute replacement for Connor McGregor, Chad Mendes showed that he really could’ve used a full training camp.  There’s gotta be a better way.

Here’s my suggestion:

Every card with a title fight, will also have the number 1 contender’s match for that same weight-class.  For example, if Max Holloway and Brian Ortega are scheduled to fight for the 145lb belt, at UFC 226, you would have a fight like Jose Aldo Vs. Jeremy Stephens on that same card.  If Max Holloway isn’t able to fight that night, the higher ranked of Jose Also Vs. Jeremy Stephens is automatically granted that title shot.  In the upcoming fight between Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar, you would also have Stipe Miocic Vs. Derrick Lewis on that same card.

This is only half of the solution though.  We’ve seen situations where a title challenger drops out and the title holder won’t take the fight because they had been training for a different opponent.  Or the title challenger won’t take a new opponent for fear of losing their title shot.  Moving forward, these wouldn’t be options.  When you sign on the dotted line to fight for the belt, you would also be signing to accept a last minute substitution from the number 1 contender’s match.  If the title challenger is the one who drops out of the fight, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in and it’s still a title fight.  If it’s the champion who drops out, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in against the title challenger for an interim-belt.  That interim belt guarantees the winner of that fight the next title shot.

With this approach, 3 of those 4 fighters would have to drop out prior to the fight to undermine the main-event slot.  You’d also end up with some crazy last minute match-ups with qualified contenders leading to some very cool fights.  If you wanted to take this a step further, you could have a couple top prospects from that same weight class on the under-card as well.  This way, if a top contender loses their opponent to a title shot, a top prospect could move into that slot.  How many times have we seen something special with someone like a Lando Vanata steps up against someone like Tony Ferguson?  And if someone was left without an opponent through this approach, give them their ‘show” money and book them back in as soon as possible.

You can thank me later Dana ^^

The Companion Experience (Part 2)

In my last post, I explored the idea of bringing one of our oldest professions into the 21st century.  I tried to make a case for understanding sex as a natural element of the human experience rather than something to be pursued or withheld for social gain.  I also tried to make case for why it would improve the lives of everyone involved.  Much like the legalization of alcohol and now cannabis, perhaps it’s time to let go of our prejudice and do what’s sensible for all those involved.  But it’s not enough to say we should do it. We need to find a way to do it with intelligence and compassion.

 

While I’m inclined to say that the first step is legalization, it really isn’t.  The first step is education for the purpose of destigmatization.  From what I can tell, the general public has a rather skewed idea of what prostitution is and very little interest in how it could be done better.  A dear friend once told me that you have to plant seeds in fertile soil.  I think it would be education that makes this soil fertile.

I’ve often said that dishonesty is the most counter-productive force known to humanity.  If we could have a honest look at who uses escorts and why, I think our perception would change dramatically.  There are certainly some seedy characters in the mix, but there’s also a full spectrum of service providers and clients.  From high-powered women looking to unwind, to couples looking to spice things up, to newbies looking to learn a few moves.. there are a lot of reasons to look to this industry.  And for those with a high sex drive, a desire to pleasure, an affinity for polyamory and an ability to tune into the well-being of others…. there are a lot of good reasons to be interested in the profession.  If we could show people that this doesn’t have to be about exploitation, we could open their minds to what this could be about.

If we could get to the point where the general public is willing to look at this industry with an open mind, they might start to value an approach which was both intelligent in its design and compassionate to all of those involved.  In my last post, I described what I called the companion experience.  It was this idea that sex was only one element of companionship, and not even a mandatory one.  It was recognizing that  within the human experience, we have gaps in our ability to connect with others in the way we want.  Some may lack the time to generate those connections, while others may lack the social skills.  Whatever the reason, having those connections are an important part of being a balanced and healthy human being.  History has shown us that there has always been those in search of companionship and those motivated to provide.  This is connecting those dots in a respectful and productive way.

So once minds are open and people are willing to leave their prejudice behind, it’s time to roll out a plan.  Something where a reasonable person could say, “It might not be for me, but I understand this and I would support it”.

Step 1 would be legalization.  There are certainly criminal elements within the industry today, but that has more to do with it being illegal than the actual profession.  We saw that with alcohol in the 1920s and we’re seeing that again with cannabis today.  When you make it legal, you bring it into the light.  Good operators shine while bad operators go out of business.  For those who continue to treat the industry as one of exploitation, there will be fewer and fewer places to hide.  The transition wouldn’t be immediate, but every journey starts with a first step.  Legalization would be the first step in creating a culture that encouraged the positive elements while discouraging the negative.

Step 2, would be regulation.  Most speaking about legalization and regulations as the same thing but I’ve learned to separate the two because of what they tend to mean.  Legalization, in a broad sense, refers to the public acknowledgement that something is socially acceptable.  Regulation determines the way in which we would allow it.  In the spirit of full transparency, I have some strong reservations around regulations in general.  Too often, those who are charged with the responsibility of deciding how we should allow something are incapable of deciding what’s best for all those involved.  Sometimes it’s politics, sometimes it’s prejudice, sometimes its a lack of motivation, and sometimes it’s just incompetence.  That said, perhaps we can set a few ground rules:

  1. A companion will always have the ability to choose their own clients.
  2. A companion will always reserve the right to excuse themselves from a situation
  3. A client will always reserve the right to excuse themselves from a situation

Beyond this, I’m having a hard time coming up with any other rules which should always be in effect.  I’m not saying there aren’t any others, but I’m having a hard time coming up with rules for which I can’t find obvious exceptions.  I’m also not much for rules…

What tends to be more effective than rules is a culture.  I’ve given a lot of thought to what culture is an where I keep landing is a collective intelligence.  So rather than write a set of rules which may or may not encompass all the complexities of something like this, how about we collectively and intelligently find the best ways of moving forward?  I’ve learned that with complex issues like these, there is no right way of doing something, only a continuum of finding ways to do it better.

I suppose this leads us to step 3.  As much as the experience between the companion and client is one of human connection, the exchange of value for a service is a function of business.  One reason why I’m not a fan of regulation is that those with the best policies tend to run the best businesses.  We would want to create ground rules for the respect and safety of those involved, but we would also want great businesses to have the freedom to find the best path to lift this industry up.

I’m not entirely sure what the best approach here would be as I can’t think of any modern examples where this approach has been applied.  That said, I have a few ideas:

  1. Ahead of legalization and regulation, build a think-tank consisting of the world’s most respected industry professionals and clients.  Provide them with an open-minded board of advisers who would be able to provide insight with respect to government relations, general and sexual health, technology, psychology, law enforcement, education and anything else that would help us make informed decisions.  Then ask them to produce a set of best practices which could be used as a template for all those looking to get involved in the business of companionship.
  2. Allow the members of this think-tank to play the role of adviser to a government funded investment firm with the mandate of investing in the companionship industry.  The best way to change someone’s behavior is to give them an option they’re more interested in.  The best way to move this industry from the black market to a place of respect, is to provide a better option to all those who are looking.  The way in which you accomplish that is by supporting a new generation of businesses who are looking to do it better.   And there’s no better way to do that than by giving opportunities to the entrepreneurs with the right motivations.
  3. Provide the opportunity for companions to work as independents.  I’m not a fan of forcing someone into the employment of someone else.  If this is your chosen profession, there should be a way for you to be your own boss and not have to compromise on things like personal safety.  Perhaps some of the businesses would be like the Air Bnb of companionship… where your accommodation comes with some in-house entertainment.

With a new generation of businesses equipped with the knowledge, motivation, and resources to do things better, I think we would see a massive transition from the black market to the white market.  The best companions would seek out employment with the best businesses, or perhaps choose a more independent route.  Clients could align themselves with the businesses which expressed values they identified with, just like we do with other businesses.  As certain businesses developed competitive advantages over others, and clients ebbed and flowed accordingly, better policies would be developed.  Ultimately, we’re trying to set the foundation for an industry which could evolve alongside our best understanding of it.

Part of me is tempted to unload some more ideas on best practices… things like:

  1. The disclosure of sexual health.
  2. The Education and training of companions to be more than just sex workers.
  3. Perhaps a database of clients so companions can better understand who they’re getting involved with.
  4. A blacklist of clients who have crossed lines which should not be crossed.
  5. Mediators who can peacefully and compassionately resolve disputes as they arise.
  6. I’m not the biggest fan of licenses which can act as barriers to good operators, but what about certifications?  Being certified in different practices and techniques would be one direction.  We could also talk about being certified by an organization which represents for integrity and high standards.

 

No shortage of ideas… but that’s mostly because there’s so much room for improvement.  But I’m careful to remind myself that I don’t have all the answers.  This isn’t about the few telling the many how it should be done.  This is about recognizing and appreciating a dynamic which has existed for at least as long as human nature.  It’s about recognizing that a modern society has room for this and opening the door to finding our best way of doing it.