Lifestyle & Culture

Robotic Frustrations

October 4, 2020



WITH THE exception of my husband who is fully human, lately I spend most of my time talking with robots. They call me on the phone and send emails and texts daily.  I don’t handle them very well as I hate robots, so usually I shout nasty things into the phone like, “F*** you!” or “Die you Commie bastard!” while they, nonplussed, continue with their pre-recorded talking points as if I had not said one thing.

My most recent robotic interaction was with the team of computers working at Airbnb, and it’s still ongoing. Weeks ago I booked a lovely house on the Jersey Shore where our dear friends from Virginia were going to meet us for a three-day weekend. During the entire process I never spoke with a living, breathing person, instead doing it all on computer. Naturally I was forced to pay in full with a credit card.

Horror of horrors, two days ago our friends had to cancel because of a dire family emergency. Now having no reason to go to New Jersey, we set about canceling the reservation, hoping for a full refund. To begin, my husband engaged the “chatbot,” which issued standard replies to his questions that never addressed the problem. Eventually Mitch found a magic place that allowed him to contact a human and was told via the chatbot it would “take some time.” A day later a text arrived, chiding him that he was not the person who made the reservation, so go away. Turns out it would only speak to me.

This morning the computer wrote, “Your cleaning fee has been applied to your credit card, have a nice day.” Other than that, it’s not looking good, despite the fact that early in the proceedings we spoke with the property owner whose phone number appeared on the listing. Paul was great. A human, armed with a full range of emotions and a working brain, he was quite sympathetic to our plight and assured us we would get a full refund, but we would have to do it through Airbnb, not him.

This is where things stand now. I am continuing to punch the right buttons to get the rest of our money back (“Press 1 if your question is Covid-related, press 2 if this reservation was made after March 20, 2020 and press 3 if you have billing questions”), but so far to no avail. Honestly, I miss the old days when people ran things; these machines are heartless and, dare I say it, stupid. Still, they are the dominant species of the future so we’d better learn to live with them.

—Andrea Rouda

Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid

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