Jun 8, 2022

Are You a Robot? If So, Please Un-Subscribe

The very impertinence of artificial life!

By Ed Goldman

I’m tired of being asked if I’m a robot—especially since the one asking is a computer. Which itself is a robot.

To be sure, I get asked far more ridiculous things, including (1) “Are you a Scorpio?”; (2) “Are you my father?” and (3) “Are you a rabbi?” 

Edgy Cartoon


Answers, respectively: (1) Yes. (2) No. (3) No. I might have become a rabbi but didn’t want to work Saturdays. And, yes, I’ve used this gag here before. It was thought up by my mom as a snappy answer when I was visiting her years ago and her rabbi was at her house. After he established that I knew something about the Torah (“It’s in Hebrew, I believe, Rabbi”) he asked me why I’d never pursued a religious career.  Ergo, the Saturday gag.  My mom’s been gone since 2006 but I don’t think that gives me license to steal her jokes.   

Anyway: Isn’t asking me if I’m a robot similar to somebody asking, “Are you Jewish?” Many Jews I know could find this kind of question a prelude to a confrontation—unless the asker adds one simple word at the end of the question: “too.” (“Also” and “as am I” would also do the trick.)

To recap: Why not have the computer get off on the right figurative foot by asking, “Are you a robot, too?”

Where this could get dicey, I’ll admit, is if the computer has just verified a number of your pluses—i.e., “I know you’re a gifted carpenter, skilled ocarina player and sparkling conversationalist. Are you a robot, too?” This can come across as pandering. It’s the same technique a boss might use in setting you up to be canned by saying, “Geez, Merle, everyone here in marketing likes your sense of sartorial flair, your patience at replacing the toner in the Xerox machine and that one campaign idea you had back in 2018. That’s why it’s doubly hard for me to ask you this: Can you please find another job?”

The word “robot” has been with us for more than a century. It was introduced 102 years ago in “R.U.R.,” a play by Karel Capek. Even though the title “R.U.R.” is in Czech—it stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (in English: Rossum’s Universal Robots—doesn’t it almost sound like “R.U. a Robot?” (Okay, maybe not. In the future, I’ll restrict my stretching to my pre- and post-exercise routine. If I ever develop one.)

Besides the indignity of being asked by a robot if I’m one as well is how the veracity of my response will be assessed.

Father's Day Gift Ideas

For example, when I’m shown a Zoom call’s worth of photos and told something like, “Click on the pictures that show a shingle roof.” Well, the pics may all show houses but some are too far in the distance for me to discern if their roofs are asphalt shingles, Spanish tiles or sprayed-on polyurethane (as was the roof of my prior home, btw. I asked the roofer to leave me a can of it to apply during bad-hair days).

But aren’t the newest robots supposed to excel at both visual and verbal recognition? Wouldn’t it be easier for an automaton than for me to identify roofing materials? I wouldn’t know a lug wrench from Mister Wrench. Or a claw hammer from MC Hammer. On the plus side, I do know that if you stir together vodka, orange juice and Milk of Magnesia, you can concoct a Phillips Screwdriver.

Hmmm. I think I’ll ask the next android that pops up on my computer screen, “Are you a drinking robot?” 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President, Golden Pacific Bank, a Division of SoFi Bank, Inc.

photo by Phoebe Verkouw


Elon Musk—the acknowledged genius behind Tesla, commuter rocket ships and, if the stars align with his wish list, the new owner of Twitter— had a message for his employees the other day. He told them to get back to their jobs in their actual workplace, put in their 40 hours per week or just go away.

Clearly, the creative force behind all-electric vehicles had no use for hybrids either on the road or in his workforce.

While his position might have seemed contradictory—one of his semi-edicts as he moved to take over Twitter was that its employees could continue to work from home—it struck me that some industries simply don’t lend themselves to working remotely.

At this point, my industry is a hybrid one. There are certain transactions, transfers and other banking matters that can be handled just as efficiently from a kitchen table as a teller’s window. But others—like SBA interviewing and commercial lending, as just two examples, usually require a degree of what we used to call “face time” before those two words were co-opted by the picture-phone people.

What face time used to mean, of course, is sitting with customers so you could each take the measure of the other. Because just as a banker may decide someone could be a financial risk, that same someone could be thinking, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable working with this guy or gal. The relationship has got to feel mutual; after all, you’re each trying to do something positive for the other party.

I’m sure that if consumers prefer it, banking will eventually be 100 percent remote. But I have a feeling that if and when that occurs, new tools and resources will be available to ease any uncertainty felt by each party. And those will be amazing apps!

In the meantime, you should let your banker know the kind of service that reassures you your assets and privacy are safe. To coin a phrase, you shouldn’t be “remotely” hesitant to ask!

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