Archive for September, 2013

Robots on the front line of Customer Service

September 27, 2013

Robots on the front line of Customer Service

“Obviously, no human being ever saw it.”

I recently saw a post from somebody who had received a canned response to a communication sent to a major internet company. The response was quite wrong: the person didn’t have a problem, but was simply making a suggestion. The response said something like, “I’m sorry  you are experiencing a problem. Please contact our Customer Service at…”

I responded to explain what might have happened, but thought it was worth addressing here.

There is no reason to suppose that a human won’t see something you send in, just because it is a robot that responds to you. That might have been true years ago, but things are very different now.

Here’s a likely scenario:

First, you send in your e-mail.

Second, a robot reads it, and tries to figure out what you are asking. If they can identify it with good confidence, and can send you an answer, they will do so.

That’s part of what has changed. Robots are much better than they used to be both at understanding human language, and judging just how well they have understood it.

What happens if the robot can’t solve the problem?

One good response, and that’s probably what happened here, is to direct you to a human being.

This system reduces the cost of Customer Service. Suppose your question is, “When is such and such being released?” Do you really want the company from which you buy products or services paying a human being to answer that question…particularly a human being who might need to have specialized knowledge in other areas?

No, it makes more economic sense for a robot to answer that question…which in turn, can make those goods and service less expensive for you.

The robot in the example at the top of this post made a mistake…it mistook a suggestion for a request for help.

Think about it, though: isn’t it better for it to make that mistake, than to err in the other direction? Wouldn’t it be worse for it to think you were making a “no response required” comment, when you actually needed help?

Now, suppose that a hundred people a week are asking the same question: isn’t it important for somebody to know that, so at the least, the answer can be better communicated to consumers?

Absolutely…and I would expect contemporary Customer Service robots to do that. I’m sure they tally the number of times that the same question is asked, and red flag ones which seem excessive…and those “call-outs” are then reviewed by humans.

This “robot first, human second” strategy is going to happen a lot of places.

As I’ve written about before, it’s happening with  surveillance systems in public places. AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems examine the security video, looking for things that seem out of the ordinary to them. When they detect them, they flag the video for human review.

This is a great way for robots and humans to work together.

Robots* (including computers) are much better than humans are at doing the same thing over and over again. Humans are not at all good at that…we get bored, our minds wander.

Answering the “release date question” is that sort of repetitive task.

Humans, though, are much better at making decisions. They are also better at understanding other humans.

What I’ve outlined lets us both play to our strengths…repetition for robots, decisions in unusual circumstances for humans.

Expect to see this everywhere. I can already take my blood pressure at the grocery store. It warns me to contact a human being, though, if something is out of the ordinary.

It’s also the way it works for many people at the bank. They use the ATM (Automated Teller Machine) first for simple, repetitive transactions. If something goes wrong, the machine may direct them inside to see a human teller.

So, don’t assume that just because a robot tried to help you, that was the end of it. They could be just part of the human-robot partnership in all of our futures…

robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

On the Circumference #4: Keep on Rowling, more than twice as many Americans believe UFOs could be ETs than believe in non-divine evolution?

September 13, 2013

On the Circumference #4: Keep on Rowling, more than twice as many Americans believe UFOs could be ETs than believe in non-divine evolution?*

The On the Circumference posts contain short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Everything old is new again

Despite our analysis showing that original movies may actually be less risky (you can get a higher percentage return on your dollar) than sequels, sidequels, and remakes, we will continue to see them.

Why?

For one thing, they can make gross more, even if the risk is higher. When we look at movies based on their dogro (domestic gross), every single one of them over $200 million so far this year is a non-original. That’s attractive to investors, and is great for ancillary sales, like toys and video streaming rights. A higher gross means more people see it (and know about it), so if you think of the movie as marketing for the ancillaries, big is better.

For another, some of the best, most beloved movies have been non-originals. Rebooting/reimagining can be just as artistically satisfying as doing something original.

So, what is some of the news in S/PSR (Sequels/Prequels Sidequels Remakes)?

  • The fourth Jurassic Park movie (Jurassic World) now has a release date of June 12, 2015.  Don’t be too quick to dismiss this one, in terms of geek values. The director is Colin Trevorrow of Safety Not Guaranteed, which is one of the movies I’ve recommended to people a few times in the last couple of years. Even though it was imperfect, it was interesting and had a deft hand and a geeky perspective
  • From Jurassic World to a Westorld remake…HBO has ordered a pilot from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, to be written and directed by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, The Dark Knight)
  • There are some ways to judge the extent of fandom for something. Does it have a Wikia? How many page views is it getting on Wikipedia? (http://stats.grok.se/) How much is there about it at FanFiction.net? None of those would suggest that The Fall Guy with Lee Majors is especially ripe for a big screen remake, but according to this Hollywood Reporter article by Borys Kit, Tatiana Siegel, McG and Dwayne Johnson might be making one

J.K. Rowling and the Potterless Screenplay

Harry Potter fans can look forward to a sidequel based on Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, according to this

The Hollywood Reporter article by Andy Lewis

The movie will actually be written by Rowling, and should feature magizoologist Newt Scamander’s treks to observe and record magical beasts, which could certainly have some interesting cryptozoological allusions. The movie will reportedly take place 70 years before the Harry Potter books (before the first one, I presume) so you won’t see the familiar characters…except, perhaps, a young Dumbledore. The book (which  benefited  charity) included marginalia from the Potter kids, so we might get some sort of commentary from them…I’m thinking that might be fun on the DVD, where they could use the original actors without worrying about aging or requiring too much of their time.

HuffPo: “48 Percent Of Americans Believe UFOs Could Be ET Visitations”

This Huffington Post article by Lee Spiegel

reports a new poll conducted by the HuffPo and YouGov which indicates that 48% of American respondents at least slightly agree that “some people have witnessed UFOs that have an extraterrestrial origin.”

It’s an odd wording that allows for a lot of flexibility in interpretation.

For example, some people have apparently identified Mars, Venus, and even the moon as UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects). If you have heard those stories, you would agree with the statement in the poll…it doesn’t say that these are extraterrestrial craft.

On the other hand, you could believe that people have seen something in the sky outside our current paradigm and not believe it was extraterrestrial: it could have been a time traveler, extradimensional, from the hollow Earth, a psychic projection, or simply truly unidentified by you. In all of those cases (and there are others), you would not agree with them having an extraterrestrial origin.

They didn’t put it in the headline, but they also asked a question about ghosts…and that one came out with 60% agreeing that people have experienced ghosts. That’s considerably higher than the UFO positive responses.

I would probably have answered “not sure” to both questions, since saying that you are “sure” indicates a belief in something to me, and I like to keep an open mind.

TV: Heroes of Cosplay

I have been watching Heroes of Cosplay on Syfy, although it is a bit unusual.

It’s been sort of paired with Face Off, but they even the same kind of show.

Face Off is a competition elimination reality show…the contestants are given challenges, and the weakest result goes home each week.

Heroes of Cosplay is more of a documentary. The cosplayers (people who dress in costumes which, in this case, they make, and act like the characters they represent…costumed play) go from con to con to compete in the convention’s costume contests.

It’s a bit weird: it’s entirely possible that none of the people we have been following will win.

Seeing their personalities and some about how they build the costumes has it’s attractions. However, thinking of it as a story doesn’t really work. It’s sort of like…following all the characters from the Avengers, and then when something happens, the police just show up and arrest the crook.

I can appreciate the artistry, but the cosplayers can be quite…unpleasant to each other. They clearly can’t be making money just on the contests, since the top prize I’ve heard announced is $1,000, and it is likely to cost more than that to make the costume (I’m guessing $500 in some cases) and travel to the con and stay in the hotel room and such.

Of course, the producers of the show may be helping with expenses…and no question that there is an observer effect in play here. We aren’t exactly watching the cosplayers as they would normally behave: they know the cameras are there, and I think they have been trying things that are atypical for them because they think it makes better TV.

I want to be clear that I admire their art. I’ve done some fun Halloween costumes, and I did watch all 5 Planet of the Apes movies in a movie theatre…in an ape suit. I used to do some special effects make up (nothing as fancy as you see nowadays). It’s just that, for the most part, it seems like they aren’t having a lot of fun…and that’s kind of the point, right?

* My headline is a bit of an overstatement, as I explained above, concerning the origin of UFOs…that’s why the question mark is there. According to another YouGov poll, only 21% (less than half of the 48% cited in the UFO poll) believe human beings evolved in a non-God-guided process

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

Movies through Labor Day 2013

September 4, 2013

Movies through Labor Day 2013

The On the Circumference posts contain short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Even though there have been records set, this has not felt like a great year for movies so far. There have been some movies that have really lost a lot of money, when you compare their domestic gross (dogro) to their production budgets, as we do here:

http://www.imdb.com/list/KL-q-CWciQY/

Two movies at this point have dogroed more than $100 million less less than their production budgets:

Jack the Giant Slayer

Dogro to date: $65.2m
Reported budget: $195.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $-129.8m (34%)

The Lone Ranger

Dogro to date: $88.0m
Reported budget: $215.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: -$127.0m (41%)

The percentages there are dogro v. production budget.

When the box office has been setting record grosses, it seems like it has been because there have been more movies in the marketplace, not because some have been particularly profitable.

There have been some low budget movies that have done really well…and yes, a couple of movies that cost more than $100 million to make, and have made a lot of money.

We are now giving movies awards based on their categories. Let’s take a look at the top and bottom of those, with the highest percentage of dogro to production budget first:

Golden (dogro at least 300% of production budget): 10 movies to date this year

The Purge (Septuple Golden)

Dogro to date: $64.4m
Reported budget: $3.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $61.4m (2147%)

A Haunted House (Quintuple Golden)

Dogro to date: $40.0m
Reported budget: $2.5m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $37.5m (1600%)

The Conjuring (triple golden)

Dogro to date: $132.0m
Reported budget: $13.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $119.0m (1015%)

Mama

Dogro to date: $71.6m
Reported budget: $15.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $56.6m (477%)

Despicable Me 2

Dogro to date: $351.0m
Reported budget: $76.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $275.0m (462%)

The Call

Dogro to date: $51.0m
Reported budget: $13.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $38.0m (392%)

Evil Dead

Dogro to date: $54.2m
Reported budget: $14.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $40.2m (387%)

Identity Thief

Dogro to date: $134.0m
Reported budget: $35.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $99.0m (383%)

The Heat

Dogro to date: $156.0m
Reported budget: $43.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $113.0m (363%)

This Is the End

Dogro to date: $96.8m
Reported budget: $32.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $64.8m (303%)

Clearly, if you wanted the biggest bang for your buck (the highest percentage return), this was a good year to be a horror movie! Counting A Haunted House (a horror comedy…it can count in both), the top four movies were all in that genre.

Note also that the only sequel in this bunch is Despicable Me 2…the rest are all originals.

Despicable Me 2 high budget is an anomaly for this group, but that’s not surprising…the more you spend, the harder it is to triple that at the box office.

We also have a “Money” category, for movies that make twice their production budget…but that’s not really a stand out. We’ll skip those in this post (you can see them at the IMDb link above), and move to the bottom category. We’ll these with the lowest performers first:

Underperformers (dogro under 50% of the production budget): 4 movies to date this year:

Jack the Giant Slayer

Dogro to date: $65.2m
Reported budget: $195.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $-129.8m (34%)

The Lone Ranger

Dogro to date: $88.0m
Reported budget: $215.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: -$127.0m (41%)

After Earth

Dogro to date: $60.5m
Reported budget: $130.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: -$69.5m (47%)

White House Down

Dogro to date: $72.4m
Reported budget: $150.0m

Tentative dogro v production budget profit: $-77.6m (48%)

Does anything group these together? I’d say big stars…which certainly may drive up the production budget, affecting these figures.

Melissa McCarthy has two movies in the Golden category this year…but if her asking price goes up, that may become less likely in the future.

It is still possible that White House Down will earn enough to move out of this category. Some movies are making money for quite some time…Iron Man 2 added another million the last time we updated the list, for example.

Next, let’s take a look at our The Measured Circle Box Office MVPs so far this year:

http://www.imdb.com/list/1qpmYwE-IJs/

This is based on the combined dogros of their movies this year (provided the movie dogroed at least $40 million…that’s our cut off). To qualify, someone needs to have been first-billed in a movie that dogroed at least $100 million this year, and appeared in another movie that dogroed at least $40 million this year.

At some point, we may look at the profitability of movies for actors…that might let them know when to ask for a raise. 🙂

Let’s pull some interesting ones from the list:

At the very top is

James Badge Dale

Iron Man 3 ($408.0m); World War Z ($198.0m); The Lone Ranger ($87.7m)

Tentative total: $693.7m

We wouldn’t say the actor is a household name, but Iron Man 3 and World War Z were both seen by a lot of people, so that may change.

Dwayne Johnson

Snitch ($42.9); G.I. Joe: Retaliation ($123.0m); Pain & Gain ($49.8m); Fast & Furious 6 ($238.0m)

had four movies that made that $40m minimum, with two over $100m. “The Rock” is #4 overall, and we think it’s safe to say that Dwayne Johnson is a draw for audiences.

There are some children high on the list, which we think may be an interesting trend.

Joey King (#5)

Oz the Great and Powerful ($235.0m); White House Down ($72.1m); The Conjuring ($128.0m)

Tentative total: $435.1m

was born in 1999.

Sterling Jerins (#17)

World War Z ($198.0m); The Conjuring ($128.0m)

Tentative total: $326.0m

was born in 2004.

They were both in The Conjuring, which certainly helped. When you look at the list, you’ll see a lot of actors who appearing in more than one movie in the same year with another specific actor. That is presumably due to them sharing an agent in some cases.

Shaquille O’Neal (#38)

Shaquille O’Neal: Grown Ups 2 ($127.0m); The Smurfs 2 ($57.7m)

Tentative total: $184.7m

surprised us. Shaq’s movie career didn’t really take off in the mid-1990s, and the former basketball star only has 11 total IMDb acting credits. Kudos to an actor so well-known for physicality for making the list with a voice role!

It is very hard to be on the list year after year. If you make big budget spectaculars it may take so long to do one that it limits your opportunities the following year. However, here are two that are on the list year, and were on it in 2012:

John Goodman (#6)

Last year: #49, $285.7m

The Hangover Part III ($112.0m); Monsters University ($261.0m); The Internship ($44.6m)

Tentative total: $417.6m

Goodman (a personal fave…we thought the former sitcom star deserved a best supporting actor nom last year) increased the take. We were hoping Goodman’s Amazon pilot wasn’t picked up…for one thing, we didn’t like it, but for another, it will limit big screen opportunities. Goodman still has another movie which might make the list to come this year (The Monuments Men).

Channing Tatum

Last year: #32, $377.0m

G.I. Joe: Retaliation ($123.0m); White House Down ($72.1m); This Is the End ($96.7m)

Tentative total: $291.8m

Well, there is a lot more movie year left to go! Looking forward to it…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.


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