A.I. Cannot Fix What Automation Already Broke bloodinthemachine.com

Takeshi Narabe, the Asahi Shimbun:

SoftBank Corp. announced that it has developed voice-altering technology to protect employees from customer harassment.

The goal is to reduce the psychological burden on call center operators by changing the voices of complaining customers to calmer tones.

The company launched a study on “emotion canceling” three years ago, which uses AI voice-processing technology to change the voice of a person over a phone call.

Penny Crosman, the American Banker:

Call center agents who have to deal with angry or perplexed customers all day tend to have through-the-roof stress levels and a high turnover rate as a result. About 53% of U.S. contact center agents who describe their stress level at work as high say they will probably leave their organization within the next six months, according to CMP Research’s 2023-2024 Customer Contact Executive Benchmarking Report.

Some think this is a problem artificial intelligence can fix. A well-designed algorithm could detect the signs that a call center rep is losing it and do something about it, such as send the rep a relaxing video montage of photos of their family set to music.

Here we have examples from two sides of the same problem: working in a call centre sucks because dealing with usually angry, frustrated, and miserable customers sucks. The representative probably understands why some corporate decision made the customer angry, frustrated, and miserable, but cannot really do anything about it.

So there are two apparent solutions here — the first reconstructs a customer’s voice in an effort to make them sound less hostile, and the second shows call centre employees a “video montage” of good memories as an infantilizing calming measure.

Brian Merchant wrote about the latter specifically, but managed to explain why both illustrate the problems created by how call centres work today:

If this showed up in the b-plot of a Black Mirror episode, we’d consider it a bit much. But it’s not just the deeply insipid nature of the AI “solution” being touted here that gnaws at me, though it does, or even the fact that it’s a comically cynical effort to paper over a problem that could be solved by, you know, giving workers a little actual time off when they are stressed to the point of “losing it”, though that does too. It’s the fact that this high tech cost-saving solution is being used to try to fix a whole raft of problems created by automation in the first place.

A thoughtful exploration of how A.I. is really being used which, combined with the previously linked item, does not suggest a revolution for anyone involved. It looks more like cheap patch on society’s cracking dam.