American Airlines' Retarded Computer

American Airlines voice recognition seriously rides the short bus, as shown in this video where Paul Seth tries to confirm his flight from New York to LA. Instead, the computer wants to send him to Belgrade. You can almost hear the resignation in the robot’s voice when she eventually ends up transferring him to a human operator. Foolish machine, can’t even cope with a mere mortal trying to trip you up. — BEN POPKEN


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  1. bpotterr says:

    Book me a flight to LA, HAL.

    I can’t do that, Dave.

  2. patoco12 says:

    Oh, come on.

    He is trying to make the computer goof up. Automated systems aren’t meant to be spoken to like a human.

    Dumb video.

  3. Shoeb Ahmed says:

    Let me think, hmm, it’s not a human?
    When a computer program looks for an answer, it has a preset list of ‘answers’ that it compares your ‘answer’ to.

    The caller is a dumbass.

  4. Phas3Sh1ft says:

    Sure this is funny, but based on his bumbling and his vocal mannerisms, he went into it wanting to mess up the computer. I’m all for human interaction when it comes to customer service, however I’ve never experienced problems with automated airline operators. And besides, most people would think to have their flight information on them when confirming a flight.

  5. Shutterman says:

    I have mixed feelings on anything calling American Airlines retarded. On the one hand, all voice recognition computers are horrible, on the other hand, when I called American Airlines to try to get a bereavement fair from Albuqueruqe, NM to Philadelphia, PA, I talked to an actual person, she tried to charge me over $1,000 for an international fair.

    She didn’t understand that NEW Mexico wasn’t IN Mexico!

  6. forrester says:

    It would appear that the caller has no idea he is talking to a computer judging by the way he answers the questions. I have to agree. The caller is a dumbass.

    I wonder if once he spoke to a human CSR, he started answering the questions normally?

  7. homerjay says:

    Ooh! Look at me! I’m smarter than a voice recognition system! Ha Ha Ha…

    While I agree that American Airlines, like all major carriers, is retarded– this was just lame…..

  8. faust1200 says:

    I don’t believe ANY voice recognition software (in our space and time) could keep up with “I believe it’s New York.” Computers aren’t built to parse philosophy and beliefs. You could play this stupid game with any voice recognition software. Unfortunately, American gets left holding the bag. This story is the suxxors.

  9. bpotterr says:

    Here’s the thing: It’s clear the caller is being an ass, but the voice-recognition system is set up terribly. It should not just guess a city if the caller doesn’t know what he or she is doing. I think because The Consumerist is read by mostly savvy people, we tend to forget that not everyone will automatically understand how an automated voice-recognition phone system works.

  10. spanky says:


    Yep. Personally, I think it’s a little bit of a bad idea for those automated systems to sound so human. It legitimately confuses some people, and even if you’re not confused, it can be hard not to respond to this natural language speaking humanlike thing using natural human language yourself.

    The superficial aspects have gotten way ahead of the actual language processing abilities.

    (Oh, plus: They freak me out. Uncanny valley or something.)

  11. germ says:

    Yep, this is a non-issue. The problem is with the caller, who is being an ass.

  12. megyay says:

    What’s even more impressive is that she (it?) tries to send him back in time! Yugoslavia hasn’t existed since 2003, Belgrade is in Serbia these days.

  13. Kaix says:

    Funny, I booked a flight with them today and it thought Saint Louis was Louisville.

  14. Scazza says:

    Seriously, voice recognition systems may not be good, but this guy is clearly trying to be a dumb ass and therefore this is the most pointless thing i have seen in awhile. How is this supposed to useful?

  15. formergr says:

    Oh god, the United voice recognition system is just AWFUL. I’m a freq flyer with them (50k miles last year), and it’s the one thing I really, really hate about the airline. It’s so sensitive to noises that you can barely use it while on a cell phone in an airport due to the overhead announcements. You’ll be halfway through the 8 menus needed to get to a human (you can say “agent” at any time, but then it doesn’t get your ff # and you risk being transferred to a really poorly trained overseas call center rep), and it’ll suddenly say, “You are travelling internationally, I can help you with that,” when you just said domestic, or worse nothing at all. Ack!!!

  16. dewmazz says:

    I… can’t… stop…
    I can’t stop laughing!

  17. Dakiall says:

    OK, he was intentionally trying to confuse the computer, BUT there´s a lot of people who simply don´t understand how the system works (not everybody grew up with computers) so I think that AA should add some explanation…like when the computer asks for the origin, it should say “say the name of the city only” and if the customer do it wrong “say the name of the city only DUMBASS!” :P
    Didn´t like the film, the guy is trying more to make AA look bad than to show a problem with it system…

  18. elljay says:

    This was obviously done on purpose. Not to beat a dead horse.

    I do find it refreshing that he was sent so quickly to a real person after only 2 attempts. Many companies would just throw you into a loop.

    Say ‘Operator’ it works half the time!

  19. y2julio says:

    The problem is with the user. Dumbass is talking to a computer and talking to it as if he was having a conversation with an operator.

  20. bpotterr says:

    You guys are missing the point here. Yes, the caller is purposely talking to the computer in a way that the computer won’t understand. But there are people who don’t know that the computer can’t understand normal human speech, and these people are going to have serious problems getting the information they need. I assume this is what the caller is trying to point out here.

    Of course if i’m wrong about the caller’s intentions, and he thinks that this is how you are actually supposed to talk to the voice-recognition computer, then you guys are right and he’s just a dumbass.

  21. BotchedJoke says:

    “Rides the short bus”? Oh my god! Why haven’t the hyper-sensitive politicly correct global warming, Bush lied, hysteria crowd freaked out on you guys yet?! I mean that is sooooo insensitive, please refer to AA’s computer as “cognitively challenged due to the evil Republicans, Haliburton, Rush Limbaugh and of course, “global warming”.

  22. GrantGannon says:

    What a cock gobbler. Oooh look at me I’ll call and talk to a computer and try to be whitty. I bet this guy IMs SmarterChild and tries to cuss it out.

  23. GlassBottleLoveAffair says:

    wee, jokes are fun.. can’t you people just laugh at something thats mildly amusing w/o making a huge deal over it? Oh wait, never mind, the guys obviously a douche bag for making a computer look stupid, my bad.

  24. Don Roberto says:

    The worst voice recognition systems are the ones that force the user to speak phone numbers or account numbers w/o the option to just dial it in. Then the darn thing repeats the number back to you so slowly and asks you to confirm. This is bad because 1) you may be in a hurry, or 2) you may be in class or somewhere you cant exactly talk.

  25. @PTWhipplebang: I can vouch for the point that you have been trying to make. I work as a CSR and on plenty of occasions I have had to conference a customer with their ISP or the manufacturer of their router and it is sometimes comical with how they speak to the voice recognition software.

    I havent listened to the sample yet, but from reading the comments I can tell you from first hand experience that people really do talk to these things as if the machine understood them.

    I attribute this to the fact that a good majority of people who use technology tend to place a lot of faith in the technology because the comprehension of how the technology actually works brings the technology to the level of magic and miracles at which point they believe anything can happen.

    Well, I couldnt quite articulate my point but I think you guys can get it.

  26. erockO says:

    The computer sounds smarter than him; the way it should be.Skynet is online :(

  27. mad_oak says:

    STUPID. Waste of time.

  28. p2502 says:

    the caller is a twat.

    I’ve seen mentally retarded adults navigate IVR systems effectively. The fact the caller is either to stupid to, or intentionally trying to confuse the system renders this article pointless and makes me wish the AA IVR system had the ability to sterilize incompetent users with high powered electric shocks.

  29. spanky says:

    This guy is pretty obviously messing with the system on purpose, but what he’s doing isn’t unlike that bad customer service call that was on here not that long ago, where the lady was similarly confused about the voice recognition system.

    OK. I am such a brave American hero I went and found it:

    Here it is.

    Also look up the Dove Foundation, a kind of skanky non-profit that makes what are apparently very realistic sounding interactive automated calls. A lot of people don’t even realize that they’re talking to a recording.

    Yes, it is dumb to talk to an automated system as though it’s a human being. Yes, this guy is very likely doing this on purpose. But it certainly seems to be a relatively common problem. Some people really do have a problem understanding how these systems work. Maybe those people are very dumb, but they’re still customers.

  30. br549 says:

    This works as a comedy skit, but it doesn’t show flaws in AA’s system.

    He’s intentionally putting in “Um”s and “I believe”.

    If he doesn’t understand he shouldn’t do that, he’s the dumb one, far dumber than AA’s computer.

  31. blackbeardrrr says:

    This is like paying your $200+ Costco tab in pennies, and complaining that the checker is taking too long. The problem is with the user. Yes, you have to adjust the way you interact when you use automated machines. We get it. We got it before you uploaded the video. Here’s your cookie. But everyone I know (and I *do* know some nubies) is able to adjust to a more robotic interaction with these things.

    It is clear that you had to go out of your way to cause the computer to fail. I applaud AA for designing a dumbass-proof system. They should patent this. I’d hit it.

  32. InsaneNewman says:

    On a side note, CitiCards has one of the best IVR implimentations I’ve ever expereinced. When I call customer service, it simply asks what is your account number, you have the option to say or key it, and no matter how fast I’ve mumbled the number, it gets it (and doesn’t repeat it back to me).

    Furthermore, it actually passess the info it collects along to the CSR so I don’t have to say it all over again. (One of my biggest pet peaves are systems which ask for info, and then the CSR askes for the exact same info!)

  33. ElizabethD says:

    The caller sounds insufferably smug. Big whoop: he put one over on a machine and some software. Congrats, little man.

    Hal FTW!

  34. databit says:

    I design IVRs like this for a living and I always brag about how great the American Airlines voice reco is (I didn’t design that one). As a lot of commenters have said, this guy is obviously trying to mess up the computer. The Commenters that say that it sounds to human and confuses people are kinda full of it. I have listened to countless recordings of people using these types of IVRs and MAYBE 1% think that it is an actual human. Voice reco has come a long way and it has a long way to go still. But if an IVR can handle 40 to 50% of the average workload without annoying the customer to much then I prefer a company to go that route than ship the calls over to India where you can’t understand agent.

  35. Smashville says:

    Is it the computer’s fault that the guy doesn’t know where he’s going? “I believe New York City”?

  36. Yeah, I’m going to have to join the party and agree that the caller is a moron.

  37. thejbs says:

    just say the f#cking name of the city you f#ck!

    If I were Hal, I would have blown him out the air-lock in the first 30 seconds.

  38. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    While I have in the past screamed swear words at automated phone robots who cannot understand me (I speak Midwestern, thank you very much), they are far, far less stupid than one human airline rep I spoke to. I booked a red-eye cross country flight. When I got the itinerary, the normally 6 hour flight took an astonishing 18 hours. The rep I spoke with couldn’t have been more puzzled, even after I told her that it surely had to be a computer error. Minutes drag on and I could hear her almost having a panic attack. Then she said “Well, the flight is at night. They must fly slower.”