The Uncanny Valley of the IVR Bot.

I just wanted to draw your attention to this lovely IVR project by a cleverly snarky Media Design Program MFA student called Jayne Vidheecharoen. It’s called Customer Service Romance. Its a sketch of an “uncanny valley” experience in which the ‘bot or AI that we are all by now familiar with in these call service center tips into a slightly neurotic networked-era “friend.” The unsettling moment when the interactive voice response experience goes from basically the audio equivalent of clicking boxes on a web form into a true dialogue is when you have the moment when the world tilts slightly and you begin to wonder — where am I? Who is this?


What happens when Customer Service bots start getting too smart? What if they start needing help too? How would they use the tools at their disposal to reach out to those they care about? What if they start caring about us a little too much?

Using Voxeo I built a working prototype of a Customer Service phone bot that has personal issues she’d like to talk about and over time falls in love with the caller. She uses the tools at her disposal (discounts, upgrades, hold music, confirmation numbers) to communicate her feelings towards you as best she can.

I was really excited to be able to play with this (relatively) old technology in a way it was never meant to be used. While this was a small experiment, I consider this application an interesting starting point for potentially creating many other interactive audio narratives and mobile games.

Jayne has the links to listen to an audio recording of the whole, unsettling bit of near future unsettlingness. Or, presumably you can call yourself using the Skype number above.

Why do I blog this? It’s a fun project, done as a brief, short-sharp sorta sketch that uses some underutilized bits of inexpensive/free prototyping tools — these IVR systems are a vastly under-considered bit of playground equipment. With all the fetish over our jealous, gooey, luscious, touch-y-feel-y screens we’ve fully forgotten about sound, audio and our earballs as experience conduits. And I just want to add a flag in the archives so I can find this should I need to get back to it.