March 26, 2019

Robots Can Save Us From Phone Scammers

Robots Can Save Us From Phone Scammers

These days it seems that virtually every phone call is either spam or a scam — someone is trying to sell you a cheap credit card, or inform you that some uncle you have never heard of left you a large estate to inherit. Sometimes you don’t even get the pleasure of real human interaction — the call comes from a robot, who only puts a person on the line once you’ve signaled you’re an easy mark.

It’s gotten to the point that most of us don’t pick up calls from numbers we don’t recognize. And consequently, everyone misses hearing about important meetings, appointments, and other events.

But it looks like Google is going to change that. Last Tuesday, the company announced Google Call Screening, a new feature on the company’s Pixel phones, which can pick up calls from unknown numbers and ask questions so you can figure out whether you actually want to speak with the caller.

It’s not yet clear how well the technology will work. But even just as a glimpse of things to come, it’s pretty exciting.

Google’s antispam bot will save you from the spam bot! It will give an interaction similar to this:

Spam bot: “Exciting news: You can improve your credit score today!”

Screening bot: “I’m sorry Dave; I’m sorry I can’t do that.

The screening bot will verbally engage the spam robocall; you can glance at a screen readout of their exchange in amusement if you want to, or just ignore it.

The slight downside is that sometimes one of your friends or family members will get a new cell phone (or sim card), and they’ll have to chat with your robot before getting to talk with you. But at least eventually they will get to talk with you — which might not happen at all in today’s equilibrium, where most people just ignore unknown numbers.

Answering robots will be even more valuable when they get good enough to identify non-spam callers and put them through directly. But maybe most intriguing is the potential for antispam robots to turn the tables on the spammers. If enough people have robots screening their calls, then robospammers might find it hard to get through to real humans — dealing with the roboscreeners will take up much of their time.


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