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Chatbots: Conversations with the Almighty Algorithm

January 14th, 2017 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, are baby boomers like me in danger of losing our jobs to overgrown algorithms?

If you follow my blog regularly, you will know I am a self-proclaimed technology grinch. For the record, I am not opposed to all technological innovation. My hit list is made of up tech innovations in three categories: 1) Tech that make someone’s job obsolete 2) Tech that crosses ethical lines of privacy 3) Tech of the “just because we can” variety.

My current gripe is the tech trend known as chatbots. First a definition: A chatbot is an artificial intelligence powered application designed to simulate a conversation with another human.

The experts proclaim that chatbots enable a two-way, personalized interaction between consumers and a brand. Personalized? It seems to me that they have bastardized the term. If the person is missing from the interaction, it really is not personalized.

The almighty algorithm is the power behind chatbots. Algorithms enable bots to become smarter. They learn from the exchange with a live person and improve themselves. In theory, they get better at conversing the more they learn.

The technology is far from perfected. Microsoft created a chatbot called Tay which was apparently designed to mimic the language patterns of a 19 year old girl. Mischievous Twitter users took on the challenge and were able to trick the bot into making sexist and racist remarks. Microsoft had to deep six the bot shortly after its debut.

It is not a surprise that this technology appeals to the younger, more tech-savvy generation who were raised in the internet world. Many Millennials are happy to interact with chatbots, I, however, am a Baby Boomer. I find the idea of conversing with an algorithm that is using me to get smarter a bit disconcerting.

But the main reason chatbots make my hit list because they can and sometimes do replace customer service representatives. Live chats with service reps are being replaced with virtual chats with bots. Some airlines and hotels are starting to use bots to handle the booking of flights or rooms and fast food chains use them to take food orders.

On a personal note, I am frustrated to no end by voice mail systems that force me to find way my way three or four levels deep in a hierarchy of options designed to prevent me from ever speaking with a live person. I can only imagine how exasperated I will become trying to get an algorithm powered chatbot to help me.

As your official technology grinch, I declare that chatbots are a metaphor for the ever accelerating depersonalization of our world. As an introvert, I am not big on chatting in general. But when I do, I want it to be with a living breathing person – not an overgrown algorithm on virtual steroids.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at or the novel online companion at

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