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March 1, 2012

I just talked to Kristin Scales... OR DID I!!?!!??!?!?!?!?

I just had a chat with a support representative from my credit card company. Halfway through I became curious whether the person I was talking to was actually a computer. Below is a transcript of the chat, slightly redacted to protect my credit card information which gets stolen like once a year, so I don't even know why I bothered.

Kristin Scales: Welcome to Credit Card Chat Service. My name is Kristin. I'm here to assist you with your personal Credit Card Accounts. May I know your complete name as it appears on Credit card?
You: Sure, it's William Carlough.
Kristin Scales: Hello, Will.
Kristin Scales: I'm sorry, William*
Kristin Scales: May I please know the last four digits of your Credit card number?
You: No, no problem, my name's Will.
Kristin Scales: Great.
You: Yes, xxxx.
Kristin Scales: Thank you for providing the account number.
Kristin Scales: How may I assist you with your Personal Credit card today?
You: I think I've gotten to be a month behind in my payments, but the balance summary is confusing.
You: So like I've been paying the month before's bill for a couple months.
You: My question is, do I have an outstanding balance that I should pay now, or am I good and should wait til 3/15, my next billing date.
Kristin Scales: I understand that you would like to know the status of the balance and the payment on the account.
Kristin Scales: I'll certainly check that for you, Will.
You: Yes, lovely, thank you.
Kristin Scales: You're welcome.
Kristin Scales: Your account security is of prime importance to us. May I ask you a few verification questions before I proceed?
You: Sure.
Kristin Scales: Thank you for your understanding in this regard.
Kristin Scales: Could you please provide your Date of Birth and the last four digits of your SSN?
You: Sure. xx/xx/xx and xxxx.
Kristin Scales: Perfect, thank you for the information.
Kristin Scales: Please give me few minutes to check your account details.
You: Sure.
Kristin Scales: Thank you, Will.
Kristin Scales: Thank you for your patience, I appreciate it.
You: No problem.
Kristin Scales: Will, I see that the next billing date is :03/19.
Kristin Scales: I also see that you have a outstanding balance of xxxx at the moment on the account.
You: So that's stuff I should have paid before, you're saying.
Kristin Scales: I mean, you have an outstanding balance to pay on the account.
You: Gotcha.
Kristin Scales: Absolutely, you got me correct, Will.
You: I have one more question, if you'll humor me.
Kristin Scales: I really appreciate your quick thinking in this regard.
Kristin Scales: Sure, I'll be more than happy to assist you if you have any other questions?
Kristin Scales: That's alright.
You: I'm wondering whether you're a computer or not, so could you name a character in a Star Wars movie?
Kristin Scales: Will, I'm a Live Person, you can be sure of it.
Kristin Scales: I'm sorry, I would not be able to provide you any other information apart the information relating to your Banking Needs.
Kristin Scales: I would sincerely request you to understand in this regard.
You: That's okay.
Kristin Scales: Thank you, Will !
You: I'm a little disappointed you can't name a Star Wars character, but I understand.
Kristin Scales: I appreciate your understanding in this regard.
Kristin Scales: Sorry to hear that, you're disappointed today.
You: All right, you had me going that you were a person for a second, but now you just sounded like a computer again.
Kristin Scales: So, do you feel that I'm sounded like a Computer, Will?
Kristin Scales: If the answer is "YES", then I'm sorry once again.
You: Now I can't tell if you're a computer or someone just messing with me.
You: You're good.
Kristin Scales: Nice to hear that, Will, and it was really wonderful chatting with you today.
You: Touche, touche, Kristin.
You: Well, a pleasure talking with you, and thanks for your help.
Kristin Scales: You're welcome, Will.
Kristin Scales: Please contact us for any further questions, we'll be happy to assist you.
Kristin Scales: Thank you for choosing Bank of America's Credit card Services.
You: I will. And if I need to find out the name of any Star Wars characters, I'll find someone else.
Kristin Scales: You have a Wonderful weekend !!
You: Thanks, you too.
Kristin Scales: Sure.
Kristin Scales: Sure, you can always do that.

I would have kept going, but if Kristin is a real person, I would have felt bad making her look bad at her job.

So, first thing I should note, is that the company providing the software and possibly Kristin herself is called Live Person, so that explains her weird line, "Will, I'm a Live Person, you can be sure of it."

Second is, sorry I couldn't come up with a better Turing test than naming a Star Wars character, but asking Cleverbot, an award winning chatbot resulted in this:

Me: Name a Star Wars character.
Cleverbot: Ron Weasley. Duh.
Me: Who is Luke Skywalker's father?
Cleverbot: Darth Vader.
Me: Who are Darth Vader's children?
Cleverbot: They are a family in the future.
Me: Who run Bartertown?
Cleverbot: Your father.

So clearly computers don't know that much about Star Wars, when it takes place, or whether or not Master Blaster runs Bartertown.

I'm sure many of you have interacted with a customer service representative who was not allowed to go off script on the phone, so a lot of this chat makes sense as someone who is just copying and pasting out of a list of things they're allowed to say. The most convincing argument that Kristin is a person is right in the beginning, when she gets my name wrong. It's hard to believe that someone would program a computer to call someone by a common nickname and apologize for it. A friend that I showed this to offered up an interesting theory, and it's that Kristin is both a human and computer. She starts out as human, and when she realizes that this is a fairly standard case, she passes it off to computer Kristin, and when the computer gets scared, it asks for person Kristin again. Others have suggested that Kristin is someone in a call center in India whose English isn't very good, which I don't really buy.

There are some weird grammatical inconsistencies throughout the conversation, like the fact that "credit" is always capitalized, but "card" usually isn't. "Thank you for choosing Bank of America's Credit card Services." She really went out of her way not to capitalize "card" that time. Then there are certain words that are capitalized out of nowhere like "Wonderful" and "Banking Needs". There's occasionally an extra space before the end of a sentence, and a colon before the date she gives me, which could be sloppy copy and pasting or shoddy programming. So none of that is evidence either way, I just wanted to let you know I've really thought about this a lot.

My favorite part is when she says "If the answer is "YES", then I'm sorry once again." I mean, that's just crazy. No human would ever say that and no one would program a computer to say that. It's like I'm talking to someone being held hostage and they're trying to slip me information about how to rescue them without their captors catching on.

Anyway, what a dystopian future we live in where we can't tell if the people we're talking to are people or robots. Do any of you have a strong opinion either way as to who or what Kristin Scales is?

Posted by Will at March 1, 2012 8:51 PM