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Saturday, July 13, 2024 at 5:01 AM

I knew what happened to my patience

“The rise of powerful AI will either be the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.”

— Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018), English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author

All I needed was a thingy-ma-bob for my computer. All I knew was that I was without internet, telephone and patience when this device croaked.

What I didn’t know was what happened to the piece of technology. But I knew exactly what happened to my patience. It vanished nanoseconds after trying to deal with computerized customer service. Someone said, “That’s artificial intelligence. You know, it’s called AI.”

“Lord give me strength.”

With every new technological advancement since I entered the workforce decades ago, we’ve been told that it will make our jobs easier, save us time, afford us a better living.

So, who remembers Dupont’s long-running marketing slogan, “Better Living Through Chemistry?” The company dropped that once familiar slogan after research altered public perception of bug killers, preservatives, additives and other things enhanced by chemistry leaving the slogan with a bad connotation.

Truth be known, recreational pursuits with certain forms of chemistry in the late ‘60s and most of the 70s probably didn’t help much either.

My dilemma was lacking the services of a “landline via Internet” house phone to reach out and touch the phone company. Not to worry, I had a cell phone to “dial-up” the phone company’s customer service number.

No problem. Just get it off the Internet. Yes problem. No internet.

No problem. Retrieve it from a paid bill neatly filed away somewhere.

Oh yes, another problem. I’ve been paying the bill online. Doing my part to save a tree meant also meant no phone number.

It’s in the phone book. Where was the last place I saw one?

The kitchen? Oh wait.

That was at the house I moved away from 20 years ago. When I last had an actual hardwired landline telephone.

So, I went to the office for a phone book to locate the elusive customer service phone number.

Once back at home, if I thought I had problems before … I spent another 10 minutes wandering the house, then the driveway, and the backyard, trying to locate a signal. Got one. On the patio, standing on a picnic table, facing south, waiting for bars so that maybe the call would squeak through.

“Lord give me strength!”

At last, I was connected.

“Your call will be answered in the order it was received.

You can also get answers to many of your questions by contacting us online.”

“No, I can’t!” my frustration shouted.

Repeating that response every minute for the following 15 to 20 times artificial intelligence offered the same unintelligent advice made no difference.

A voice. Was it a real person? “Please listen as our menu has changed.” Thus, began a quandary of AI options I call the “I Need Help” game show quiz. Answer the questions correctly and you will advance to the next round and a chance to win the grand prize. Actually getting someone who can help you.

However, one wrong answer and you’ll lose all your earnings and get sent home to start all over.

Your first question toward the grand prize is, “What number are you calling from?”

“I’ve already answered that one. A dozen times. Just ask AI.”

“What’s that you said? I’m sorry, I’m unable to understand what you are saying.

Please hold while I transfer your call.”

“Noooo.”

Ordinarily, one bar of service at my house is good for 10-12 minutes.

It was a miracle that this call had endured for more than 25 minutes before the call dropped. After it was transferred.

No problem. All it took was another 15 to 20 minutes of answering all the same questions. Again. But this time, good news. I got a real person. Bad news, real person didn’t have all the answers already supplied twice to artificial intelligence. We started over with 20 questions.

However, real person was miraculously able to see inside my computer and confirm my real-time diagnosis.

My computer thingyma- bob was not working. “You will need a new one,” she said. “No problem; I’ll transfer you to sales.”

“Noooo.”

Problem. Real person in sales had no idea why he was talking to me.

Not to worry, it took no more than another 15 minutes to describe what had already transpired between artificial intelligence, real person number one and me.

“So, you need a new one?”

“Lord give me strength!”

“What was that,” real person asked?

“Nothing, just a little prayer.”

Total phone time invested: one hour and seventeen minutes.

After a couple of weeks, however, the thingy-ma-bob was still AWOL. Follow-up calls and more lovely conversations with artificial intelligence and real people concluded that the device was never shipped.

So today, I am still waiting for the new thingy-ma-bob to arrive. This has allowed me time to ponder the obvious question: What will be the next great advancement that will make life easier or better? After AI?

“Lord give me strength.” And maybe a little common sense to replace AI.

A STORY

WORTH TELLING


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