It is not actually the software that is stupid – it just does what it is told to do. It is usually the algorithm that is at fault – that is what the software is programmed to do. When writing software, it is quite difficult to think what people might want, years into the future. It is also difficult to plan what stupid things people do when the software is running. Most often the software engineers have not thought out what customers want, nor what they might do when faced with the given choices (not their choices, but the software engineer’s).
Writing software is a loopy sort of activity. That means that much of it operates in loops – doing the same thing over and over again. Normally there is a choice to get you out of the loop, but it might not lead to where you want to go. There is usually an error choice built in, if the software can’t go in a sensible direction. It is very often in the error field that you get some ridiculous message or the dreaded “interminable loop.”
Getting into one of these loops usually means that you either have to bail out of the program (if you can) or switch off your computer. Error messages are supposed to get you and the computer out of trouble, but what they say in the English error message might not mean much.
Here are some classics:
“We can’t proceed with this payment as the account details don’t exist. Please check them with the person you’re paying.”(This is trying to pay into one of my other accounts!)
“Please refer to your internet administrator.”This is designed for companies, not individuals – who normally would not know their internet administrator and might themselves be the administrator, having set up the software on their computer themselves.
I find that the modern website with a chatbot is the most frustrating – as they cannot answer your question (even if they understand it!). If you can’t get a human-being, then you are a lost customer. What some chatbot sites do is offer a closed list of topics your query might be about. If your problem is not on that list, what do you do? It seems the contract with the software engineer is finished, and the company has no interest in opening an “other” option with a text box for collecting the topics that might be quite frequent but which did not occur in the first phase when the software was written.
One of the reasons why Google has been so successful is that it does usually bring up websites that do give you the information you want. Whether the new-fangled ChatGPT and other AI systems will do likewise is still open to question – a lot depends on the data they have been trained on.
However, there are a great many seriously hopeless search facilities – eg the one on my email system, which doesn’t always give me all the emails from the one person I request but instead offers me a whole lot of other people too. I find many other websites (eg the BBC) do not have decent search engines, so it is usually easier to narrow your search in Google before going to a specific website.
Much as I quite like my Apple watch, it can do some stupid things. I bought it mainly in case of an emergency fall – wherever that might happen. I have fallen off my bike and it does respond – but it might respond properly if I failed to move after falling. It does need my phone nearby though.
A couple of things I dislike – mainly resulting from things they think are important in California.
It asks me to take exercise at times when I have just been walking for two or three hours, or doing some other exercise! I don’t like things that boss me around!
It asks me to log in with my Apple ID. How can I type it in to my Apple watch?
I find passwords are one the more infuriating parts of our modern computerised world. Sometimes, even if you have the right password, it still says that it is wrong. That usually means that there is another computer failure and nothing to do with your password. They will try to force you to reset a password. This leads either to extreme annoyance or to an interminable loop.
The first thing they do is ask you to put in your username or email address. Seeing as you have only just put it in (and tried to login) that is idiotic. They should insert it for you. Secondly, they send a password reset to your email or phone (not always helpful as it needs to be on the same machine that you are trying to login on). But this is probably for security reasons to avoid unwanted chancers who are getting in via your IP address.
You then jump through numerous hoops (or should I say loops) in order to get a new acceptable password. Different companies have different preferences for length of password and what type of characters, so you are thus prevented from just using the same password for all access. You then have to learn to manage your saved passwords in a secure Google programme.
Do your thing via the website
Sometimes I get messages (particularly from banks) which tells you not to go onto their website, but try later. This is frustrating, but at least you know what to do. The instinct is to phone them up and try to do your task that way.
Chats are no substitute for a phone call, nor do they do what the website obviously can’t do! It is amazing how often a company will direct you to their website in the mistaken belief that you can do your thing online. Would anyone willingly hang on a telephone line if they could? Why can’t we send messages, rather than hanging on the phone? The company can then send you the answer by email or text – when they have the answer. One suspects they are unwilling to spend the money employing staff to monitor email queries, and for the same reason phone calls are rationed with long queues.
Some large organisations have a “how to complain” section on their website. You duly put your problem into words, What you receive is a letter or e-message (possibly written by a chatbot?) which starts with a craven apology, and then proceeds to a standard excuse which bears very little relation to your actual problem.
From Stupid software to Chat Bots
If some of us are already finding these automated communications stupid, how much worse will it be when AI apps take over more of the internet and more of the applications we now need for daily living?
Editor’s Note. If any reader is experimenting with ChatGPT, please send in a submission with your findings!