Published in AI

Robotic companies – don't box us in!

by on20 June 2019

Mike Magee's Rave: Blatant disregard of Isaac Asimov's law of robotics

Earlier this week I had a missive from a large energy company which I won't name.  Oh, I may as well.

It's UK company Eonenergy – it supplies something called electricity.

I have a set of solar panels on my modest house in Oxford, and Eon – as it prefers to be known, sent me an email about my “feed in tariff” (FIT). This is when an individual or company has installed a set of solar panels and feeds electricity back into the grid – and gets paid for generating juice, or bijlee, as it's called in India.

Eon said it wouldn't pay me any money until I sent them a photograph of my meter and serial number, even though it does meter readings itself from time to time. The implication was that I'd somehow been fiddling with the meter.

I wouldn't know how to – the meter depends on the mood of the English weather, which even top artist and BBC weather guru Thomasz Shafernaker probably has to use the Chinese oracle, the I Ching, to figure out.

The photograph is my meter and serial number.

I digress. Eon's email said: “How to send a photograph”. This looked like it should be a hyperlink but went nowhere. I went to its website to see if there was any information on how to do that. There was an address. But to send a photograph on my ancient camera I'd have had to take one, take it to the chemists, have it developed, buy an envelope and a postage stamp and post it. I finally managed to find a phone number because there was no email address.

And this was where the robotic nightmare began. A robot with a woman's voice asked me a series of questions but the robot didn't seem to have very good ears. This took me back to when I was a mod in the 1960s and had just read Isaac Asimov's excellent novels. Isaac Asimov's three “laws of robotics” are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Look, I was put on hold for 10 minutes listening to the worst rendering of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik I'd ever heard.

That clearly contravenes the first law. I couldn't give Eon's robot an order because it wouldn't listen to me, so it, like Alexa and Google Echo and Siri only listen when they want to. I finally got through to a person who, I believe is a human being. He advised me to email this address.  So I did.  Let's hope I hear back from a corporation soon.  And thank goodness I'm not completely gaga although I am, yours truly, Mad Mike Magee.

My point is this. Large corporations can obviously make huge savings by replacing human voices with robotic voices, no doubt powered by big data and completely artificial intelligence.

Eon is just one example of many. Soon, no doubt, spin doctors of big corporations will just be robots while journalism – that is people like us challenging the status quo – will have no voice and won't be heard at all.

Last modified on 20 June 2019
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