Fed Up of Midterm Robotexts? This is How One Man Fought Back (It's Really Quite Brilliant)

November 6, 2018 12:42 am

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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

The midterm elections appear to hold a significance that few before them have enjoyed.

Worse, the prevalence of technology means no one is safe from receiving political messaging in the most intimate of spaces, but not necessarily in the most intelligent of manners.

My phone has been filled with texts from candidates for District Attorney, local ratcatcher (I suppose that’s the same thing) and any number of campaigns fighting against one proposition or another.

It’s all a little much. 

There’s something about texting that’s particularly personal. 

It’s for friends, lovers and security codes sent by companies when you’ve forgotten your password to their sites. 

So when a certain well-known San Francisco-based tech type — let’s call him Frank — got one too many, he decided to get personal right back.

He shared the texting exchange with me, so that I could watch the level of fluster at the robotexter’s end, as it began to receive texts it couldn’t quite decipher.

The exchange began like this: 

Hi Frank, this is Lucas S. a vol w/ Dr. Victor Olivieri, an educator running for SF City College Board. He went to community college, earned a Ph.D., and has taught at the university level and was a senior administration official in the UC. As an immigrant and first in his family to graduate college, Victor is running to strengthen City College for ALL students. Will you be supporting Victor.

It seems curious to introduce a candidate for the first time and immediately ask you to vote for them. 

In this case, though, it really was one political robotext too many. So Frank replied: 

Do you have any nudes?

Frank, you see, suspected that the texting was being controlled by AI software. Being a tech type, he knew that if you respond in a way that’s outside the software’s limited understanding, it may (or may not) turn to a human for help.

The robotexter replied: 

Oh, no, not me. I’ve never lost control. I’m face to face, with the man who sold the world.

Things didn’t improve. Frank replied by suggesting the robotexter’s number was familiar. Could it be, Frank asked, that either he or his husband had once had a brief liaison with this voice from the ether?

The robotexter replied: 

Thank you! Would you be interested in volunteering? In just a few minutes, you can reach hundreds of voters like you.

I fear the robotexter was, in fact, losing control. Why would Frank, clearly irritated by the robotexting, want to commit himself to irritating a few hundred of his fellow citizens?

Frank continued to insist that the robotexter must be either his former lover or his husband’s.

The robotexter began to offer non-sequiturs. For example: 

Sorry I missed your call. The texting app we use doesn’t allow me to receive phone calls. Can I answer your questions by text?

Frank hadn’t called. He hadn’t mentioned calling. 

The annoying machinery was failing to grasp human essences, but still desperate to annoy. 

It kept spouting more information about the candidate, as Frank kept tweaking it.

Because it had no concept of humor, absurdity or, indeed, humanity, it carried right on.

In the end, Frank texted: 

What are you wearing?

The bot replied: 

We got your number from the public voter file.

Then it added, as if it was finally, finally beginning to dawn that it was being an annoyance: 

I will opt you out of our list and hope you can visit Victor’s website and consider supporting his campaign.

We’re being told that Artificial Intelligence is the future, that robots will soon be so clever they’ll know our thoughts before we even have them.

Currently, however, I fear they’re about as clever as far too many politicians. 

Worse, political campaigns seem to believe they’re helping in getting out the vote.

Frank texted back one more time:

I miss you, boo boo.

The bot, despite saying it would opt Frank out of its list, saw hope once more: 

I understand. Are you interested in staying updated on the campaign, or would you like us to remove you from this list?

I fear it didn’t understand at all.

Frank — and many others, I suspect — would like not to be contacted this way in the first place.

Today, I texted the bot and asked why it had come up with the Bowie lyrics.

I didn’t receive a reply. 

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