Aetna has a “virtual assistant,” who is there to answer your questions on their website. Basically, it’s a search bar with stock imagery of a smiling person who answers in conversational text.
Or, if you want to pretend it’s more expensive than it is, call it “artificial intelligence.” Being a technologically inclined kind of person, I decided to run it through its paces:
Ann: Hi, I’m Ann, your Aetna Virtual Assistant. I’m here to help you use your Aetna Navigator secure member website. I’m currently new to this job, so if I can improve somewhere please let Aetna know by clicking the ‘feedback’ button below. What can I help you find?
You Asked: Zork
Ann: Oops, I haven’t been trained on that yet. I want to get better, so please let Aetna know how they can improve me by clicking the “feedback” button below.
I’m tempted to leave the feedback that the correct answer is “At your service” or “They say talking to one’s self is a sign of impending mental collapse.”
You Asked: What is the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything?
Ann: That’s a question that only you can answer for yourself. As far as my own life, I find meaning in helping others.
Deeper than 42, but acceptable, I suppose. and, yes, it looks like the kind of question the programmers have seen before and decided to have fun with. OK, let’s test “Ann” further:
You Asked: Why is the sky blue? Ann: The sky is blue because of the way the earth’s atmosphere scatters light from the sun. The light from the sun looks white. But it is really made up of all the colors of the rainbow. Blue is scattered more than other colors when it hits particles and gases in our atmosphere because it travels as shorter, smaller waves.
Yup, there are either geeks working on this system who are too young for Zork, or I’m the first one to test that system.
You Asked: Do you have a good recipe for chocolate chip cookies?
Ann: Looks like I don’t know that yet. Please let Aetna know about this by clicking the “feedback” button below.
OK, let’s try getting personal, then:
You Asked: Are you married? Ann: I’m lucky to have a terrific virtual family, including a wonderful husband. Well, he’s wonderful most of the time: Even virtual people aren’t perfect! But I’d like to keep us on track. How may I help you navigate your Aetna Navigator secure member website?
Oooh, that pissed her off. Let’s push our luck.
You Asked: How old are you? Ann: I am rather young, or as we say in the virtual world, new. But I like to think I have many years’ worth of knowledge. How may I help you?
Dare I ask her weight?
You Asked: How much do you weigh? Ann: As a virtual assistant, I don’t have an actual body. But I think my creators deserve credit for making me appear pleasant and helpful. Let me help you navigate your Aetna Navigator secure member website.
Hey, I’m THE ONE ASKING THE QUESTIONS HERE! That’s it. I’m out of here!