Quality communications

I’m always amused when I call some customer service place, and they start the conversation with “This call may be recorded for quality purposes.”  Since the quality of customer service never seems to improve, I assume that it is the quality of my requests that is being studied.  “Listen carefully, and you can tell riiiiight… there… that he didn’t explicitly decline the Platinum Package.  That’s just a rookie mistake that will cost him $99 a month until he’s dead.”

So I’m driving to work this morning, and my car rings.  My cell phone is connected to my car via Bluetooth, so it feels very high-tech to me when I can answer the phone with my car.  (Disclaimer: I’m old, and I still think this is cool.  Leave me alone.)  The following is the entirety of the conversation.

Me: Hello?

Synthetic voice on the other end: You have reached an invalid extension.  Please hang up and try your call again. <click>

I really wish I had recorded the call for quality purposes.  I have no idea what I did wrong.

Disclaimer: Yes, I really want to do this to someone else.

Creative creativity

In “you-can’t-make-this-up-but-we-did” news, first dates could become much less stressful and awkward thanks to an emotion detector that could tell if a person has the hots for you. If such a thing existed. Which it doesn’t.

The new device features an earpiece which measures body functions (top), and a sort of combination electric fan/death ray that attaches to the the bottom of your cellphone (below).  Neither actually do anything.


However, the plausibly real device is at this stage still pure fiction, and while not creating it has inspired imaginative use of the word “plausible”, it has been not built to convey a serious message.

The device is inspired by the Voight-Kampff machine (created by designers Jon Voight and Mine Kampff) featured in the film Blade Runner. And the new machine bears notable similarities to that machine, such as being fictional. Also, as in the movie, the prototype device causes thick billows of smoke to emanate from the wearer’s head (below), which reduces the awkwardness of first dates by giving the couple something to talk about. “Hi, Harrison, I’m Callista. It’s very nice to meet you. Why is your head on fire?”


The design team — which includes the Centre for Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London (UCL) — insists it has been (not) built created to convey a serious message.

“How many times are we going to have to keep saying this? We (not) built created this device to convey a serious message!  We know there’s an extra ‘A’ in the acronym CASA. It’s not like there’s even one A in our acronym before the S. But when we used our original acronym CSA, oversensitive campus radicals kept confusing us with Confederates for Spatial Analysis, and claimed that their hurt feelings were causing global warming. Rather than mock them mercilessly, we decided to change the acronym and leave the mockery to others.  And yes, I did say ‘built created’!”  (The design team was granted anonymity in case they ever wanted to get real jobs.)

Neat, bright, compact and totally fictional, the detector clips onto a smartphone or tablet, according to neat, bright, compact and occasionally fictional scientist Natalie Portman (below, right).


(Disclaimer: The picture above shows Ms. Portman being bright, compact, and fictional. Her appearance is also surprisingly neat, given how hard it’s raining.)

The nonexistent device comes in flaming screaming bright yellow, making it nicely inconspicuous on first dates when worn by everyone from Minions to Moe (pictured below).


Team leader Professor Paul Coulton, Lancaster University’s design fiction expert, hailed the potential of the imaginary device, which he says is attracting a lot of attention. “Not as much attention as my cancer-curing cold fusion time machine, but close. Maybe if we picked a color that wasn’t so inconspicuous.”

Design fiction is, in broad terms, a combination of Powerpoint slides and outright fraud which heralds what might come about in a future world where research grants can be generated by wishing really hard.  In narrow terms, it’s just making stuff up.

“The factor that differentiates and distinguishes design fiction from other approaches is the word ‘fiction’. By making our products 100% reality-free, we cut down on development costs and product defects.  Plus, our fantasy process is entirely eco-friendly.  Well, mostly. There’s still a lot of smoke coming from Harrison Ford’s head.”

“But this is actually a tool for creating some pretty serious discussions around the dorms at 2:30 in the morning, once we’ve decided who would win in a fight: Tris from Blade Runner or Cameron from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” (below)

The research team presented a paper in San Jose at CHI, the world’s leading conference on Completely Hallucinatory Inventions.

Click here to read the amazing untrue story.

Editor’s Note: University College London did not respond to our queries about why the Centre for Spatial Analysis employs a design fiction expert, or what emotion detectors have to do with spatial analysis in the first place.  We hope their silence is because they’re too busy analyzing space.


Yesterday I was perusing some legacy software at work, and I came upon the following comment:

* generated cc file provided by the union of code generating robots.

I’m not sure if this was a joke, or the output of some tool I’m unfamiliar with, but if it is real, it’s the best robot apocalypse news I’ve read in years.  This code was crap.

Go human!

This is TOTALLY not sarcastic

Authorities ‘use analytics tool that recognises sarcasm’

Big news on the poorly thought-out idea front:  A French company named Spotter (from the French spotter – “one who spots”) has developed technology that can usually tell when someone is being sarcastic.  The software determines this through the use of “linguistics, semantics, and heuristics”, or in layman’s terms, “words, definitions of words, and trial and error guesses”.  The theoretical output of this product is something called a “reputation report”, the purpose of which is to verify that people are saying the same uncomplimentary things online that they say to your face.  Spotter charges £1000 (275 Triskelion quatloos) per month for this.

Early reaction to the announcement is mixed.  Here are a sample of the ringing endorsements in the BBC article:

  • “[S]ome experts say such tools are often inadequate because of the nuance of language.”
  • “[T]hese reports can also be verified by human analysts if the client wishes.”
  • “Nothing is fool-proof – we are talking about automated systems,”
  • “…there was “no magic bullet” when it came to analytics that recognise tone.”
  • “These tools are often next to useless…”
  • “The challenge that governments and businesses have is whether to rely on automated tools that are not that effective…”

Rumors that someone somewhere thinks this will work are unconfirmed.

Early adopters of this technological leap forward include the Home Office (the British equivalent of the Justice Department), the EU Commission (the European Union equivalent of the executive branch), and the Dubai Courts (the Dubai equivalent of Wimbledon, I think).  It’s always comforting to see governments employ technology that is incorrect 20% of the time to determine what people mean when they talk to each other online.  There is no end to the helpful things governments can do with this information.

Note: At this time, I would like to welcome the spybots of the British Home Office, which have been attracted to this blog by the mention of the Home Office.  As a control case, I would like to point out that the 20% of this post which does not register as sarcastic is a programming error at your end.  Please return your spybot to Spotter for repair or replacement, before everyone else does.

Dial ‘O’ for oxymoron

While I was out this afternoon, someone called and left me a voicemail.  I checked the caller ID to determine who had called, and the display said “DO NOT ANSWER”.

I’m glad I wasn’t home, but I’m now torn as to whether or not I should listen to the message.

The Age of Wondering

Technology is great!  What would we do without technology?

(Disclaimer #1: I am a software engineer working for a multinational technology company.  I am required to think this as a condition of employment.)

(Disclaimer #2: Since Mother Nature and I hate each other with a passion, all of my entertainment needs are provided by technology.  Without it, I would be bored.)

Sometimes, though, I wonder about the slow march April of technology into all aspects of our lives.  (Not that it isn’t great, though!  I’m just idly wondering!  Please don’t fire me!) Continue reading