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