The story of "Lenny" -- a chatbot designed to make telemarketing unprofitable


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/23/the-story-of-lenny-a-ch.html


#2

There are a bunch of these 'Lennies" out there. My favorite is a bot that uses a computer generated voice to inform the scammers that their robodialers are going to be ping-flooded so as to make them useless. Then the bot proceeds to tie up all the phone lines associated with that robodialer.


#3

holy shit, the U.S Presidency has been taken over by a chatbot!


#4

Oh, “Lenny is” perfect; I’m not sure I’d heard that one before. The perfect blend of confused older person (who seems like an easy mark), who can’t quite hear the call, with enough vague interest (that works for a variety of situations) to keep telemarketers on the line and extended family anecdotes that waste time and reinforce the above. The end result is something both highly seductive to phone scammers that also passes the Turing test for the situation for an significant period of time, slowly driving the scammer insane.
I keep listening to the recorded calls, and so far the 20+ minute calls end with the telemarketers desperate to get off the line and scammers losing their shit.


#5

A few months ago i read somewhere that some scammers record assent words and then automatically enroll you in whatever garbage they’re selling. If you challenge them, they doctor a version of the call using your assent words as evidence that you agreed to their product/service/ripoff. Any chance that’s true? Any chance an answer bot like Lenny might get you in a jam?


#6

My thoughts exactly. Several of the recorded responses are “Yes, yes, yes…” which seems like a stupid risk. The bot could agree to anything.

Now, granted, a recording should not be considered legally able to enter into a contract and such a contract should be considered invalid, but corporations are typically given the benefit of the doubt when they claim you agreed to something and it takes multiple millions of dollars of really egregious malfeasance to get the attention of the FTC, not a claim from a single individual. So if “Lenny” agrees to something over the phone, there is a good chance you are screwed.


#7

Considering “Lenny” is not a legal person… no. Ethereal concepts cannot consent to contracts.


#8

Legally? Probably not. Practically? Yes. And unscrewing that pooch could prove expensive, or difficult near impossible.


#9

Enron laughs at your assertions.


#10

Yeah, I was thinking about that. But assuming it’s true, surely it doesn’t work if it isn’t even your voice? How does a “voice signature” work if it’s some random person’s voice?

If that’s all that’s required, they don’t actually need a recording - scammers can just do it themselves.


#11


#12

I love the part, at about 11:50 into the Trump fundraiser recording, where he says “legally we are forced to guarantee that 0% of your contribution will be used for American Center for Law and Justice…but we won’t know the actual percentage until well after our work is completed”. It is totally meaningless gobbledygook in multiple ways, since obviously that isn’t any guarantee at all, but also he mentions ACLJ, and non-profit work, in weird nonsensical sentences, as if it made total sense. It shows you how manipulative these con men can be.


#13

Yuuup. They didn’t need any sort of approval for signing people up for accounts. The only fraudulent use of an irrelevant signature they made was in claiming they weren’t legally culpable because of the waivers people signed for the accounts they did agree to.


#14

…to go silence some ducks that can be heard quacking in the background.

There should be a Pulitzer or Nobel for this kind of thing.


#15

The Turing’s Grandad Award? For AI that is indistinguishable from an old duffer?


#16

You don’t need a computer to be a part of this plan. I’ve taken to doing it myself, when I get a telemarketing call and I’m not doing anything important, I’ll answer… put on a favorite accent, and talk to the person for as long as I can. It’s turned telemarketing calls in to a fun little improv class.


#17

Any chance scammers could use literal deception to synthesize a fraudulent contract? Sure. But this is why for anything truly major like large sums of money or a house sale, contracts have to be in writing or they’re usually unenforceable (edge cases exist for various reasons not likely to apply here).

If they’re that invested in fraud they can just use a joe-schmo voice off the street to accomplish the same ends. Ultimately there’s very little that can actually jam you up unless they try to take you to court, and fraudsters have this weird innate fear of having their evidence examined in a court. This is why copyright trolls drop cases the instant you indicate you’ll fight back. Ultimately fraudsters are more interested in moving on to the next, easier, target than they are in creating elaborate ruses that ultimately would require them to subject themselves to the jurisdiction of a court in order to make work.


#18

That’s what I’m hoping for!

@schuck If my goal is to fool the scammer by making him think he’s talking to a real person, the waters may get muddier. How is the scammer supposed to know what my voice sounds like? But as @reactionable points out, it’s unlikely there’s a point on the scammer spectrum where it’s desirable to doctor a recording for use as evidence.


#19

Here in Australia, half the old guys at our local pub are just like Lenny. He also reminds me of a gardening show presenter of yore, Alan Seale (what a name if you have a lisp).


#20

Presumably the telemarketers need some additional information from you, usually a credit card number or access to your computer. (If all they needed was your “consent”, they’d just fake that without going to the bother of calling you at all.) Since Lenny can’t provide that information, he’s unlikely to get you into trouble.