If You Hate Telemarketers, You’ll Love This Robot Designed To Waste Their Time (Audio)


Anyone frustrated with telemarketers may have a new best friend. A Los Angeles man with an unusual passion for phone systems created a new robotic answering service that wastes telemarketers’ time.

Roger Anderson started the Jolly Roger Telephone, which lets users start a three-way call with the service so they can listen gleefully as the bot rambles on. It’s designed to provide entertainment and empowerment for everyone who has grown weary of the phone calls. Its first question of the telemarketers is often, “Is this a real person?”

In a typical call, the robot keeps the telemarketer on the phone for a few minutes, but in some cases they go on for much longer. The robot does this by cleverly exploiting a flaw in the telemarketer playbook: staying on the line if the person is agreeable. So the system leans on “yeah,” “sure,” “okay” and “yes.” In one instance the robot kept a cable company on the line for 22 minutes. Here’s a taste of the conversation:

Cable company: “How many TVs do you guys normally use in the home?”

Robot: “Sure.”

Cable company: “And do you know if those TVs are also in high-definition, HD?”

Robot: “Uh-huh.”

Cable company: “Okay do you guys normally like to record with DVR services?”

Robot: “Okay.”

Cable company: “Do you know who is your current TV provider?”

Robot: “Yeah.”

Cable company: “Okay great as well.”

Anderson experimented with different personalities for his robot before deciding that an odd man who just woke up from a nap worked best. For instance, the robot burned time by telling the telemarketer they sound like a former high school classmate, rambling on about needing coffee or asking them to start over again.

To create the system, Anderson recording himself saying a variety of lines, which the system chooses based on the situation. The system is programmed to be agreeable until it senses suspicion in the telemarketer, because of silence, vocal inflection and volume. Then it will say something inane and ask for the pitch to be restarted.

The service, which can juggle multiple calls at once, has had some success. In the past 10 days, the number (214-666-4321) has received 100,000 calls. Anderson has been praised online. Media outlets in Australia, South Africa, Britain and beyond have reached out to him.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate this kind of interest in it,” Anderson said. “There’s been so much support, everyone really hates telemarketers.”

Anderson has loved phone systems since 1991, when he met the ROLM telephone system as a young engineer at Sears. Since then, he has devoted his life to telecommunications. Today the consultant maintains the phone systems that large companies use.

As his creation went viral this month, Anderson launched a Kickstarter campaign. He wants to build robots with a variety of voices and languages. The robot currently uses only one voice: Anderson’s. He dreams of ultimately going even bigger and toppling the global network of call centers. In his perfect scenario, telemarketing would become inefficient, making the call center business model collapse.


(C) 2016 The Washington Post – Matt McFarland