I'm currently facing a dilemma when it comes to robots.

A long time ago in our business, we decided to not do a phone tree or an automated email response to anyone who decided to contact us.  One of our core values is Respect and another is a commitment to Great Experiences. Simply put, automated phone trees and email create terrible, frustrating experiences that we believe are disrespectful.  In other words they are a no go.  Fast forward more than a decade, and now the robots are coming to us.

I'm sure anyone with an email account has been the recipient of an automated email that starts along the lines of "It’s been a little while since I last reached out, and...".  These emails are sent from robots, with real people's names attached and the trouble is they are getting better and better, and by extension harder to spot.  Sometimes these overtures reference a blog post I wrote, and I have even now had an encounter with an AI powered personal assistant that was not terrible.  In fact, if not for the signature in the email I would not have known I was interacting with a robot.  We are approaching real world application of the Turing Test.

So what do we do with this?  Is it disrespectful to interact with a customer with a robot, even if that robot provides a good (or perhaps excellent) experience?  Having an assistant, especially a robot assistant could mean that I am never late in replying to an email.  Is hiring a robot to do a human's job disrespectful to that person's trade?  We are facing a huge cliff in the real world of robots taking over people's jobs.  Self driving cars and trucks are not far away, and McDonalds is even creating restaurants almost completely staffed by robots; it seems like science fiction, but it's not.

Getting even weirder, when contacted by a robot, is it disrespectful to the robot to dismiss the outreach de-facto, simply because it comes from a robot.  Any really excellent AI should approximate human emotion, mimicking frustration and hurt feelings, which I am programmed to respond to via empathy.  As a kid, I felt terrible for C-3PO and R2-D2 when they were treated like second class citizens, how could I possibly be that person as science fiction starts to blur with reality?

I don't have the answers here.  But this seemingly ridiculous topic is likely to be something we need to discuss, and even eventually create legislation around within my lifetime.  If you have thoughts on the topic, please let me know.

And if you happen to be a robot reading this, know this: I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.


Date posted: May 26, 2016

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About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, CEO

Joaquin is a 20+ year technology veteran helping to lead businesses in the move to the Cloud. He frequently speaks on panels about the future of tech ranging from IoT and Machine Learning to the latest innovation in the entertainment industry.  He has helped to modernize software for industry leaders like Sony, Daimler, Intel, the Golden Globes, Siemens Wind Power, ABC, NBC, DC Comics, Warner Brothers & the Linux Foundation.

As the CEO and Founder of Metal Toad, an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, his primary job is to "get the right people in the room".  This one responsibility is cross-functional and includes both external business development functions as well as internal delegation and leadership development.

A UCLA alumni, he also serves in the community as a Board Member for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, and Stand for Children Oregon - a public education political advocacy group. As an outspoken advocate for entry-level job creation in tech he helped found the non-profit, P4TH, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of entry-level jobs in the tech industry, and is in the process of organizing an Advisory Board for the Bixel Exchange, a Los Angeles non-profit that provides almost 200 tech internships every year.


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