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After a brief interval of Baroque music, Steve had my answer.

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To pursue this hypothesis, I left a message with e Fax's "investor relations" spokeswoman, who, I was told, fielded media inquiries, and set about learning all I could about chatbots.

A few days ago I posted a column ("Breaking Up Is Hard To Do") relating the difficulty I encountered when I tried to cancel my e Fax account.

After a couple of false starts, I ended up engaged in a live chat with "Steve S.," a sort of Ricky Roma character—if one can imagine Ricky Roma working off a company script—who did everything he could to avoid fulfilling my simple request. wasn't Ricky Roma so much as Ricky Robot—that my live chat was not with an actual human, but with one of the burgeoning number of robots being deployed to perform customer service, the simplest and most familiar being the soothing female voice who retrieves phone numbers when you dial 411 ("City and state, please"). EFax makes a virtue of the primitive nature of chatbot technology by using a chatbot to field "cancel my service" requests online.

EFax turns out to be no more eager to take press calls than it is to cancel customer accounts.

Although the investor-relations spokeswoman's voice mail said, "Your call is very important to us," she didn't answer it.

Finally I dialed the company's main number and pressed a button that got me randomly connected to a guy in sales named Steve.(Apparently, everybody at e Fax is named Steve.) Steve agreed to ask a colleague whether the company used chatbots to field cancellations and put me on hold.I used to think that Fox News' Glenn Beck was a dangerous demagogue.But after spending a couple of days researching the consumer applications of "chatterbots" or "chatbots"—computers programmed to simulate human conversation—I've come to the conclusion that, in fact, Beck represents a breakthrough in computer engineering.He is the first chatbot to pass the Turing test before a national audience.Before we get into the Turing test, let me explain how I stumbled onto this topic.

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