Can’t Pass a Turing Test

So Tess and I are trying to buy a new house, I may have mentioned this before. Internet access — specifically high speed access — is a big requirement for us. Between the two of us we’d have a very hard time getting any work done without it. Thus, for anything that gets put into the “serious” list we usually search out local high-speed internet providers in the area and confirm a) that they offer service at the address and b) that they can accommodate our bandwidth and throughput requirements.

I’ve accomplished this before with several companies, and in particular with Comcast/XFINITY. Perviously I talked to a guy named Ruhid and while it took him a bit he was clearly searching for an answer. Today, I had to do the same thing, but as you can see below, I was not able to answer these very basic questions.

Chris: Hi, I’m a live Comcast product specialist. What questions can I answer for you today?
Chris: Just type your question below.
Matt: I’m trying to determine what sort of speeds I can get for a house we may buy

[address of new house]

Chris: I’d be glad to check the Internet plans we offer in your area.
Chris: Do you mind if I ask a few question in order to give you accurate information?
Matt: sure
Chris: Just to check before we move on, are you a current Comcast customer or have you had Comcast service in your name within the last 120 days?
Matt: no and no
Chris: Thank you for considering Comcast!
Chris: To better assist you with our Internet plans, may I ask what do you usually do on the Internet?
Matt: mostly work, I am an author, my wife is a software developer
Matt: we also stream entertainment
Chris: Perfect! How many computers or gaming devices do you connect to the internet? Are any of them laptops?
Matt: most of them are laptops and I maintain a router for NAP purposes
Chris: We offer the Wireless Gateway which packs a router, cable modem, and voice adapter into one device. It allows multiple devices in the house to access to access the Internet at the same time with lightning fast speeds!
Chris: Just to check, do you currently have TV and/or phone service/s with another provider?
Matt: Thanks, I’m just checking access for potential issues at this time
Matt: yes we’re on community fiber installation right now
Chris: By the way, are you interested in Internet-only service? We currently have promotions for new customer for triple play bundles that you may qualify. Please note that you will be able to save more on the costs if you go with bundling up our services.
Matt: only internet please
Chris: It’s alright, just wanted to let you know the benefits of bundling our 3 high speed cable services.
Matt: I just need to know what if any service at this address
Chris: Based on what you’ve told me, I highly recommend our Performance plan. With Performance Internet, you will be able to stream high definition movies and TV shows easily, work online at home and surf the web with fast speed of up to 50 Mbps downloads with up to 5 Mbps upload.
Chris: How does that sound to you?
Matt: are you saying that the CP on Vashon island can support 50/5 Mbps?
Chris: The calculated maximum speeds of the internet plans vary from area to area (in most cases by 2 – 5mbps differences). The promotions show the “National” plan that is advertised the same, the everyday pricing shows the local area pricing and the speeds in that area.
Matt: that’s not what i’m asking, I need to know what the line to that address will support
Matt: can you answer that question for me?
Chris: May I ask what do you mean by saying “CP”?
Matt: the control plane on the far side of the network. If there is coaxial cable into the house, which COMCAST owns, then there will be a control plane somewhere in the neighborhood.
Matt: its your companies router
Matt: What I’m after is does Comcast service this address? If so, what kind of service can I expect?
Chris: Our high speed cable services run through our fiber optic cable network that’s why we’re not only fast and reliable but we’re also up and running, rain or shine.
Matt: that is precious
Matt: so you can’t tell me if comcast can provide service to that address?
Chris: We provide services in your area as I have checked on our system.
Chris: Our Performance plan is on promotion at $39.99 per month for the first 12 months. After 12 months, regular rate of around $66.95 per month will apply.
Chris: The lease for the XFINITY Wireless Gateway ranges from $8-$10 a month, depending on your area. Let’s move forward so that we can check on the Customize page.
Chris: Do you have any other questions before we place the order?

As this conversation got longer and longer the thought that Chris might not be a real person, kept occurring to me. When I finally closed the chat dialogue, that question was itching my brain something awful. It seems I’m not the only one who is walking around with a raging case of Comcast brain rash.

Now, I think it’s probably safe to assume that Chris was a piece of software answering support calls on the far side of our current service plan. If not, well then I apologize Chris, but you should know that you come off as the cross between an incredibly shallow intellect and a religious zealot with a cable fetish.

So moving beyond the frustration of not knowing about internet service at this address, my fascination with this situation is plainly apparent. There is a part of me that wants to go back to that pop-up chat window and troll Chris for a while. Ask him unusual questions like “I love cherry pie. What’s your favorite pie?” Then make rhetorical statements suck as “Nice weather we’re having.” I’d just leave it there to see if he’d recognize the conversation bait. I’d love to provoke a more satisfactory tell than his relentless insistence that my life would be better if only I chose a package deal and I’d like to determine the edges of Chris’ script. Looking up an address in a service database is way beyond him, but does he contemplate the complexities of relative humidity and precipitation?

The story I’ve been investing in of late is an attempt to examine quality of life, both from within a perfect simulation of reality, and outside the simulation where experience is real, random and often fractured. We’re not too far away from a day when the virtual representation of a thing will be as good as, if not better than, the actual thing. When the fidelity and clarity and ease of an animated fish swimming through virtual space in our living rooms exceeds an actual SCUBA adventure off the coast of Hawaii, where will we chose to swim?

I should probably write Comcast/Chris a letter thanking them for giving me a ready made subplot. After I finish this blog post I’m going to go outline a machine learning Guru living within the Lucid Landscapes Corporation virtual space. Either that or I’m going to take a break from living inside my own head for a bit and go work with my hands. I have a kayak that is nearly assembled.

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4 thoughts on “Can’t Pass a Turing Test

  1. I feel a little sorry for Chris. If he is a human (I think he is), he’s given a script, and stuff he’s supposed to sell. The way modern services such as Comcast are sold is certainly a tedious experience, but that poor salesguy is doing a job for a paycheck. (On the other hand, if we don’t mock and complain about the process, how will it ever change?)

  2. Oh I see you are one of our most valued Customers. HA. I thought I was the only one who had experienced a Turing Test Failure with Comcast. Their offshore agents provide an infinite variety of amusement, and frustration. I think I’d better stick with: “Do you want fries with that order?”

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