Meet the Robot Telemarketer Who Denies She’s A Robot

Our encounter with an all-too-convincing robot.

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The phone call came from a charming woman with a bright, engaging voice to the cell phone of a TIME Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer. She wanted to offer a deal on health insurance, but something was fishy.

When Scherer asked point blank if she was a real person, or a computer-operated robot voice, she replied enthusiastically that she was real, with a charming laugh. But then she failed several other tests. When asked “What vegetable is found in tomato soup?” she said she did not understand the question. When asked multiple times what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained repeatedly of a bad connection.

Over the course of the next hour, several TIME reporters called her back, working to uncover the mystery of her bona fides. Her name, she said, was Samantha West, and she was definitely a robot, given the pitch perfect repetition of her answers. Her goal was to ask a series of questions about health coverage—”Are you on Medicare?” etc.—and then transfer the potential customer to a real person, who could close the sale. You can listen for yourself to some of the reporting here:

If you want, you can call her too. Her number is (484) 589-5611. This number, if you Google it, is the subject of much discussion online as other recipients of Samantha West calls complain on chat boards about the mysteriously persistent lady who keeps calling them. “A friendly sounded woman on the other end claimed I requested health insurance information,” writes one mark. “She doggedly refused to deviate from her script.”

After answering her questions, one TIME reporter was transferred to an actual human who did not promptly end the call, as others had when asked about Samantha. Asked for the company’s website, the real human on the other end of the line said it was premierhealthagency.com, the website of a Ft. Lauderdale company. “We’re here to help. . . because we care,” is the company motto on its homepage. A TIME reporter called the company directly, identified himself and said TIME was doing a story about the robot who calls people on the company’s behalf. “We don’t use robot calls, sir,” said the person who answered the phone, before promptly hanging up the phone.

When the number was called a second time, a real live employee of Premier Health Plans Inc., who gave his name as Bruce Martin, answered the phone. He said he was not sure if Samantha West’s phone number, mentioned above, was one of the company’s numbers. “First of all, we use TV, we use radio, we use Internet,” said Martin. He described the company as selling life insurance, health insurance and dental insurance. He asked that TIME publish the name of his company, the website and phone number in the article. “If you are going to publish this in the magazine, I’d like to get something out of it,” he said. The TIME reporter agreed to do just that.

Martin also said he would inquire internally about whether Samantha West worked for the company, but would not be able to respond to the request Monday night. TIME will update the story with any additional information he provides.

UPDATE: As of Dec. 11, one day after this story published, the phone number listed above was no longer answered by Samantha West. Rather, it diverted callers to a busy signal. Also the website, premierhealthagency.com, had been taken offline.

With reporting by Michael Scherer, Christopher Wilson, and Jessica Roy.

127 comments
enatu
enatu

CAN  ANY ONE HERE PLEASE READ ME AND HELP OUT

Sir, My name is Enatu Aminant I AM VERY PRETY, SEXYi won the best model 2005 , I'm 26y/o, from Australia but resident Czech Republic. I'm undergoing some emotional imbalance and depression since death of parents. I am suspecting my uncle and his associates to having a hand in the death of my parents just to gain access and control over his wealth. I was brainwashed and persuaded by uncle to sign late father's fund release documents involving huge sum of money with Citibank of Vienna, Austria. And he said the money was met for foreign investment but later I noticed he use fund to sponsoring terrorist. I would need your kindest assistance to receive incoming payment refund of $4,243,326 for safety purpose to avoid Uncle used it again to support terrorist activities. The situation is unbelievable but I can explain further if only you will be kind to assist me to fulfill my purpose. I promise to offer (20%) as the money is refunded. Thank you. Enatu Amiannt

Write me on my email: Enatu.aminant@gmail.com

Facebook name: enatu aminant

am waiting for honest person to contact me email:enatu.aminant@gmail.com

enatu
enatu

ST ANY ONE HERE PLEASE READ ME AND HELP OUT

Sir, My name is Enatu Aminant I AM VERY PRETY, SEXYi won the best model 2005 , I'm 26y/o, from Australia but resident Czech Republic. I'm undergoing some emotional imbalance and depression since death of parents. I am suspecting my uncle and his associates to having a hand in the death of my parents just to gain access and control over his wealth. I was brainwashed and persuaded by uncle to sign late father's fund release documents involving huge sum of money with Citibank of Vienna, Austria. And he said the money was met for foreign investment but later I noticed he use fund to sponsoring terrorist. I would need your kindest assistance to receive incoming payment refund of $4,243,326 for safety purpose to avoid Uncle used it again to support terrorist activities. The situation is unbelievable but I can explain further if only you will be kind to assist me to fulfill my purpose. I promise to offer (20%) as the money is refunded. Thank you. Enatu Amiannt

Write me on my email: Enatu.aminant@gmail.com

Facebook name: enatu aminant

am waiting for honest person to contact me email:enatu.aminant@gmail.com

xavier.gonzalez.murillo
xavier.gonzalez.murillo

Es increible, la verdad es que por es acento cuesta diferenciarlos, aunque si en este caso por las respuestas.


Xavier Gonzalez Murillo

Call Center Barcelona

EvanCollins14
EvanCollins14

lol Yes its a robot, a lot of telemarketers companies are prerecording their voices with answers in response to common questions asked. A few years from now you wont be able to tell the difference between robot or human. I currently work for a company like this, not many people catch the difference now until it glitches and calls them 3-4 times in a row. 

ChrisHennick
ChrisHennick

Some offshore call-center employees can't pass a Turing test in English either.

Line_Bet
Line_Bet

New use -- my son, a high school senior, just received a call from "Jason" at the University of Arizona admissions office, less than 24 hours after we signed up for a tour.  My son asked me why the phone line was so bad and why there was a delay after each response to "Jason."  I told him that he was probably speaking with a robot.  He said, "no way" ... until I played the two sample calls that were part of this story.  He then agreed:  he had met Jason, the recruiting robot.

smthincleverhere
smthincleverhere

I am posting this everywhere I can, your story above sounds exactly like what just happened to me!


I keep receiving calls from this number! 404-400-1192!

When I finally answered it was a computer programmed to sound like a human! I said, " you are not a real person." It laughed, creepily, and said, " Yes I am, we must have a bad connection."  I responded with, " NO, you are not real, What the heck is this." It REPEATED itself EXACTLY. I was so scared.


I said, " Take me off your list, stop calling me." It laughed and said, " NO."


This was the WORST experience I've ever had with telemarketers. I cant believe it is legal for someone to create a computer program that sounds human that calls people!!


My caller id said it was YOUR HEALTH!

CathyvonHassel-Davies
CathyvonHassel-Davies

I am sure this has something to do with the Do Not Call Registry. If the call is from a computer - not a live person, then the number can be reported to the registry.

reidelliott95
reidelliott95

Am I the only one that noticed that it answered the question "What vegetable is in tomato soup?" correctly? Tomatoes are fruit. 

01rurc
01rurc

The actions of everyone involved prove that they are being sneaky and illusive. These are trates we cannot tolerate in anyone that has dealings with our government let alone sanctioned and practiced by our government. It is the outright lyng by these people to their own potential customers that I find repulsive. I dont mind the technology but the twist words to misrepresent exactly what they are doing is 100% not acceptable.


TIME you should have this on the cover of your magazine not burred deep in it.When someone hires a company like this it is a direct reflection of them.

maduceone
maduceone

Odd that Samantha is the same name used in the movie "Her" about a guy that falls in love with his computer generated assistant, "Samantha", no doubt inspired by Apple's iPhone assistant, Siri. Hope you get to the bottom of this. So far it's the best sounding robot I've heard. I guess that someone will develop a similar robot for phone sex. Ha!

JoetheSFRepublican
JoetheSFRepublican

 I think the whole group behind this story are total a**holes.  The kind of elitist who poke caged animals with sticks. You harass a young telemarketer, and most likely got her fired.  Anyone who has ever had the displeasure of doing telemarketing work knows how torturous it is to get a caller like this.  For those who don't, a few facts:  telemarketers work with a script, some companies are so rigid, if you veer off the script you lose your job.  They provide you with only a few responses to get conversation back on track, but they are useless when you have an a**hole like this who has no intention of talking about the intended subject.


All this for the amusement of some east-coast liberals.  And for for anybody who wants to respond, "it's just satire", you can eat sh*t, too.  Because it's pretty obvious the girl wasn't in on it.



Read more: Samantha West The Telemarketer Robot Who Swears She's Not a Robot | TIME.com http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/10/meet-the-robot-telemarketer-who-denies-shes-a-robot/#ixzz2o3OzzLxI

NSbenjamins
NSbenjamins

I think it's not really a robot.

I believe there is a person (probably in India) on the other end playing a prerecorded sound bytes depending on what you say.

It sounds too intelligent to be a robot.

AlessandroMachi
AlessandroMachi

So I scooped Time Magazine by 10 months regarding this story on my own blog... http://alexlogic.blogspot.com/2013/02/i-was-fooled-into-thinking-i-was.html

My next scoop is the January Cosmopolitan smut laced cover being sold in at least one Target Store, maybe all of them. Is the January 2014 Cosmo magazine cover to smutty for Target Stores, especially during the holiday season. It looks like Cosmo is really out to taunt the Holiday Season and family values. Don't believe me? Check out the Cosmo cover.  http://alexlogic.blogspot.com/2013/12/holiday-wishes-from-cosmopolitan-lauren.html

AlessandroMachi
AlessandroMachi

So how do we protect ourselves from callers who simply hit buttons to keep us occupied? At least with television I can change the channel without anyone trying to make me feel guilty. Uh oh, coming soon, guilt surfing TV.

Bromptonboy
Bromptonboy

Please don't use the 'R' word - 'R0b0T'!  Synthetic American would be more palatable.    ;)

JasonRahall
JasonRahall

A better sounding VRU than the basic "If you would like to pay a bill, press 2" etc. Presumably "she" is just gathering basic info, i.e., name, age, etc., to get an insurance quote, although it would seem faster for people to go online and type their own info.

JeremyCaney
JeremyCaney

I have an ethical issue with the fact that Times Magazine has decided to out this robot publicly.  Many advanced robots do not realize they are synthetic, and confronting this reality is frightening, potentially even traumatizing.  Shame on you.

758697dh
758697dh

I've gotten this call before.  I was only fooled for about 2 lines, then she wasn't responding to what I was saying, and when I asked,,, she laughed and said something like.. "ha ha,, they probably wish so they wouldn't have to pay me".. or something weirdly canned.   I then asked a non secquitor (sp?) and then said she didn't understand...but when you occasionally say something random, but in a normal tone like it should fit in... her response isn't what a human would do, and keeps keeping I don't understand, Let me ask you another way, etc,,, and then just hangs up.     A person that "chirpy" trying to sell you something wouldn't just hang up... she would say something about hanging up first.


Bad program gaming model.

iemrochelle
iemrochelle

Wow, I would have thought it was a woman reading a script, very uncomfortable actress, very forced.

LondonDov
LondonDov

I KNEW IT! I got a call asking for a donation and when I said no there was a pause and then "ok great-" which was cut off by "I'm sorry you feel that way" so I started thinking it was a recording. I said "Is this a recording" and the woman said, "oh dear, do I sound that bad?"

bmadger1
bmadger1

It's the government testing the viability of certain a.i., that will eventually be used to create robotic infiltrators, i.e. Terminators

ollie.buxton
ollie.buxton

Pedant here: a tomato isn't a vegetable but a fruit. So can you blame her for being a bit confused?

FrankShore
FrankShore

Obamacare is poisoning the water we drink, and preparing Earth for an alien invasion. 

JimBunion
JimBunion

You ask them if they are a robot.  Then you ask them the size of their boobs.

verbusen
verbusen

This means that a computer will be able to have a conversation with you and you will think it's a real person! Combined with the latest robotics and the fictional Blade Runner sex bots are fast becoming a reality!

ACMESalesRep
ACMESalesRep

@JoetheSFRepublican Nice try, but you're far too subtle for your comment to be effective satire. People might think you actually believe that “east-coast liberals” would target a telemarketer for no reason. I mean, that might be something a self-proclaimed “conservative” would do in a fit of questionably motivated pique, but what would a group that really doesn't even exist except in the mind of such a “conservative” gain from such a thing?

maduceone
maduceone

@Gumaer Didn't try the website, but Double D sounds like a porn site or maybe the "outsourcing" means that it's an escort service. Just a guess.

758697dh
758697dh

@LondonDov   That's the other phrase she used with me...  laughing it off and saying Oh my, do I sound that bad.... LOL

rharris50
rharris50

@ollie.buxtonYes, a tomato is a fruit.  In fact, the Supreme Court actually had to rule on this roughly a century ago.  However, it is also a vegetable.  It's not either/or.  It's a vegetable in the sense that it is vegetable rather than animal or mineral.  It is a fruit in the sense that it is the part of a plant that disseminates seeds.

TimothyPatrickHinkle
TimothyPatrickHinkle

@ollie.buxtonReal pedant here: while a tomato is a fruit, it isn't a fruit as opposed to a vegetable. It is a fruit in the botanical sense, but not the culinary sense. In scientific/botanic terms, all plant life is vegetable matter, so all fruits are also vegetables. The fruit/vegetable dichotomy exists only in the culinary sense, and in those terms the scientific definition of fruit is irrelevant. Using botanical terms, the tomato also qualifies as a berry, while the strawberry does not.

AsamiImako
AsamiImako

@ollie.buxton That would be the point of the question. You would expect a human, that understood the question, to say "There are no vegetables in tomato soup."

No.
No.

@FrankShore No... That'd be your elected officials who are doing their best to de-fund the EPA. You might want to talk to a medical professional about that invasion paranoia you have.

JimBros
JimBros

and you @gburglax08 sound like u've never been laid because you still live in a cave and masturbate while looking at your desperately poorly drawn picture of sheep!  LOL

acharles
acharles

@TimothyPatrickHinkle@ollie.buxtonBotanist divide between vegetative (roots, stems, leaves) and fruiting (ie reproductive: flowers, fruit, seeds, nuts); culinary distinction seems to turn on savory or sweet, with fruits referring to the sweet/tart, while vegetable refers to savory/salty/spicy foods.

758697dh
758697dh

@AsamiImako @ollie.buxton I human would ask why it mattered.. or ask why ask that question?  or something else to acknowledge it doesn't fit, versus a program trying to see if they didn't understand your accent.... or trying to match your response to a presorted database of FYI info