I Am A Real Person

Friday, January 10, 2014


When Time Washington bureau chief Michael Scherer got a call from a telemarketer named Samantha West, he knew the voice on the other end of the line wasn't quite right somehow. Yet Samantha West kept insisting she was, in fact, human. OTM producer Chris Neary finds out who, or what, Samantha West really is. 


Alexis Madrigal, Zeke Miller, Denver Nicks, Michael Scherer and Samantha West


Chris Neary

Comments [10]

Duncan Sinclair from Pasadena

I heard this story on OTM and today I received my first robo-call. I instantly recognized "her" sunny delivery as being an auto-generated voice, maybe even the same voice as in the report. The conversation went like this...

Caller: Hi! This is Olivia. How are you today?
Me: Oh, you're a robot.
Caller: Good! Listen, I'll be really quick...

I hung up. Thanks for the great work as always, OTM!

Jun. 17 2015 04:36 PM
Johnarri from UT

I used to work for one of those companies in the united states. Often there would be several responses assigned to each key that would cycle through. If there was one that was particularly applicable you could mute the program and play the specific response necessary. There may even have been a bit of erratic static that was played during the mute. One time the dialer got a guy that said he wrote for family guy. He asked if i liked my job. and i responded with the "UUHHH no." response. he started laughing. he went on with a Really you don't like the job? "*heh* no." He laughed some more and said he would put this in the show. The three of us laughed said our good byes and hung up my program, callee and I.

Jan. 27 2015 10:45 AM
James from New Orleans

James: the music is from Kronos Quartet's "Pieces of Africa" CD

Jan. 14 2014 04:29 PM

I really enjoyed this story...and the music that played at the end and separated it from the next story. What was that piece? Thanks!

Jan. 14 2014 08:50 AM

I think the new "This is NPR." voice is a cyborg. She sounds like a robot Pam from the Office. So bland. Annoying delivery.

Jan. 13 2014 03:03 PM
Robotnik from Upstate NY

I was a little surprised by the 'cyborg' theory that Chris Neary came up with: it wouldn't have been my first choice.

There are AI companies out there (I am acquainted with the technology behind one of them) that are almost certainly capable of generating those responses quite automatically, with no happy button-pushing telemarketer sitting out back. So I would guess that this is just the next wave, and it really will be purely robotic. For some time I have been waiting to see when the tech that I knew was in the pipeline would filter down to the street, and I think your story today was actually that moment.

Jan. 13 2014 01:56 PM

I'm so glad you did this story. A few months ago I had just started a new job and got a call at work from one of these robot/cyborgs. After a few minutes, I asked it if it was a computer and it hung up on me. I was pretty sure it was a robot, but also worried that I was mistaken and had insulted a client.

Jan. 13 2014 10:43 AM
Mike Patterson from Fleetwood, NY

Quite honestly, I'd rather talk to Samantha West than try to traverse the accent behind button pusher.
I find it extremely frustrating that companies off shore telemarketing to places where the accent is indecipherable. This seems like a very reasonable fix!

Jan. 13 2014 08:49 AM
Bob from Rhode Island

One angle I'm surprised didn't come up in the story is that this tech has been in use by the severely disabled for years. The most media friendly is Stephan Hawking, who has a number of things he wants to say programmed into his device which he then uses to communicate.

I wonder if companies employing this tech are attempting to counter the biases associated with the stereotypes assigned to individual telemarketers who present with heavy accents or dialects from outside the regional or national norms.

Jan. 13 2014 06:43 AM
richard pauli from seattle

Great story. Thanks.

Obviously here is an opportunity for a clever person to build a smartphone app that plays back canned responses.

Call it dueling cyborg calls.

Jan. 12 2014 09:44 PM

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