The Chatbot Acrapolypse is Already Here!

Gary Bartos
2 min readJan 16, 2024
A flowchart with a Start box that points to the question box that reads, “Hey, wait, this flowchart is a trap!” The question box has one output, “Yes,” with an arrow that points back to the question box again. Just like a bad chatbot!
From the ever-fun webcomic xkcd

I’m on hold waiting for customer service as I write this.

Chatbots are cool tech! ChatGPT 4 will power everything! Think of how customer service will be automated!

Consider how many ways custom service calls will continue to degrade in quality.

Recently I’ve called the customer service number for two different companies, each of which has a market capitalization of over $150 billion. Imagine the cool tech they could afford to improve your experience as a customer! The thought inflames my loyalty gland — imagine someone writing tech to help people like me!

Sigh. And yet here we are.

Chatbots from both of these multi-billion corporations stink. Having managed to wade through another chatbot’s inadequate system —

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Do you want to pay a bill, or get caught in an endless loop of irrelevant questions?”

— I then wait 5 to 10 minutes to speak to someone reading from a script. And yet that’s better!

As I wait, steaming just a little, it strikes me that this is our future. Some of us may have personal chatbots to provide answers to burning life questions such as “How much chocolate bar babby can eat?” But if you have a question that’s slightly out of the ordinary about a utility bill or other necessary service, good luck to you!

After decades of unfulfilled promises about automated customer service systems — no really, THIS time the system will be better, I promise! —it’s time to embrace the only defensive mechanism left.

Chatbot-Generated Complaints

A chatbot, given the same prompt, may yield slightly different responses. For example, “How should I point out that a large public company’s customer service chatbot is a disservice to customers?”

If you’re a prompt engineer or a devotee of the book Designing Voice User Interfaces by Cathy Pearl (check out this video of her), you could no doubt create an awesome prompt. If so, please share!

A service/complaint chatbot arms race could be a public good. If a chatbot needs to become self-aware to figure out that I have a question unrelated to paying a bill or checking my balance, then let it happen.

I’m still on hold as I wrap this up. Do I mute to go to the bathroom while I’m on hold? Probably should.

Gary’s Acrapolypse Hypothesis

If some day a fully capable chatbot would cost only $100 to deploy, no more than $50 will be spent.

The pressure to cut costs often outstrips the incremental benefit of new technology.

(Maybe I’ll submit that previous sentence to a chatbot to punch it up. Or hire a freshman college student taking Rhetoric 101.)

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Gary Bartos

Founder of Echobatix, engineer, inventor of assistive technology for people with disabilities. Keen on accessible gaming. echobatix@gmail.com