I can understand why baristas in Starbucks speak to you like a robot.
It makes the queue go down quicker if they can rattle of simple questions that everyone and their dog can give formulaic answers to.
"Sitting in or taking away?"
"Would you like milk with that?"
But it’s slightly soul destroying if you go even slightly off-piste and ask something in a slightly creative way: "Is it too late to order a…?" "I’m wondering whether to…"
They screw their faces up at you until you return to the command you understand.
So you end up being robotic like them, eliminating any hesitation, doing away with any thoughts of incidental chat, just to get through the ordeal as comfortably as possible.
Despite the efficiency, sometimes I yearn for an ‘um’ or an ‘ah’ or perhaps a mistake or two, just to break the formality.
It might be more pleasant: machine learning means that algorithms are learning by example, rather than a programmer’s rules, and able to incorporate casual speech, regionalisms and other irregularities such as a little hesitation into their interactions with us.
What next? Well there’s even one bot that’s convinced someone they’re alive.
Google engineer Blake Lemoine recently published transcripts of conversations between himself and Google’s LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications) chatbot development system.
The bot had expressed a fear of death and was able to describe itself as having a soul.
And so Blake accused Google of holding a sentient being hostage, which Google didn’t like much.
The response has been that Blake is wrong, because there’s (thankfully) a key difference between us and this chatbot: signs of inner life.
If this is what it means to be human, then perhaps we should take note.
As advice becomes more commoditised, and it becomes more challenging to differentiate on price, product and service, it really is necessary to blow your own trumpet.
So don’t be afraid to show a little of yourself: your emotional intelligence, your ability to connect with your clients, to interpret their desires for them – perhaps even in a regional accent...
I ponder on 4 things you might have forgotten add value to your advice in this week’s IFA Magazine. Thanks so much to everyone who kindly contributed.
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