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Listen: In creepy recording, robot telemarketer insists it’s a real person

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Dec 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-16 16:45:42-05

WASHINGTON — Telemarketers can be persistent, but they’re still people just like you and me.

Or are they?

In an unsettling new article, TIME Washington bureau chief Michael Scherer recounts a series of conversations he had with a telemarketer named Samantha West.

After a while, Scherer realized he was probably talking to an automated calling system. So he started joking around.

But when the reporter asked her if she was a robot, she laughed and said, “I am a real person, can you hear me okay?”

Throughout the conversation, “Samantha” denied she was a robot and kept trying to steer the reporter back to her sales pitch.

Scherer and his colleagues called her number back multiple times and made some recordings. In one they released (see below), the machine insisted it was Samantha West and even tried to banter with callers before getting back to business.

Even more bizarre, an Atlantic reporter who tried to track down the origins of the technology was told by experts that no software currently exists that could create the conversation heard on the call.

Which leads the Atlantic reporter to speculate that while the voice is automated, a live person is someplace on the call, telling the machine what to say.

Funny or creepy? Listen and decide for yourself.