Machine Learning Hopes + Dreams

January 11th, 2018

Super cute doll stroller that I highly recommend you do not attempt to buy.

Super cute doll stroller that I highly recommend you do not attempt to buy.

I’m ghostwriting an article for a tech client about the practical applications of artificial intelligence in the enterprise and how, instead of fearing a world taken over my robots, we should all embrace the idea of automating the tedious tasks via machine learning. AI is more about virtual assistants than evil robots, unless, like, you have a shitty relationship with Siri, which I certainly do.

I could certainly use an awesome assistant though. Robot or human, I don’t care. Robot might be better because they don’t try to make chit-chat, right? The point is, for weeks I’ve been spending tons of time trying to track down packages that went astray or got delayed. Yesterday I picked up a birthday gift for my kids that had been apparently been sitting in the back room of the post office for nearly a week. I got no slip, nothing, just an ominous hint when I typed in the tracking number on It said something like “I don’t know, it’s snowing, we give up.”

We have a ways to go with machine learning, but not nearly as far as the post office has to go with delivering a package to the address it was sent to, a goal it’s had since the days of the Pony Express, I imagine. (UPS, on the other hand. My husband witnessed a UPS driver park his car at the bottom of our hill during a blizzard, put on cleats, and walk through the whiteout to bring us a package. Thank you, mister).

Another example, but not really the fault of the USPS on this one:

I ordered the girls bourgie hippie wooden baby strollers from this lovely sounding company called Nova Naturals, which claims to be a wholesome family operation headquartered in northern Vermont. I ordered these strollers in early December, expecting to get them waaaaaaay ahead of schedule.

Then, I spent many hours of my life trying to get to the bottom of why the strollers weren’t on time. The company’s customer service tactics are exquisite. From the on-hold message (“We care so much about you!”) to the warm, friendly, therapist-like countenance of the actual people who eventually answer the phone, if you’re patient enough (“I bet you’re worried! But don’t worry! It will definitely be there on time!”).

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

One of them arrived the day before Christmas, and the other arrived the day after Christmas, so I couldn’t even give them to the girls. (Why did they ship them separately? One of my many questions!) Other people who have twins, laugh it up at the idea of giving ONE of your twins her Christmas gift on Christmas, but telling the other one Santa is gonna be late. Or even more hilarious, insisting they share the one for now. No.

Anyway, after badgering this company for days after Christmas, and trolling them hard on social media, I got them to refund me for one of the strollers. They were $70 each, so that was nice, although truthfully, I feel like RUINING CHRISTMAS is worth more than $70. (Yes, I’m being dramatic. This situation did not even remotely “ruin Christmas.” In fact, the girls had no idea they were missing this gift. And I gave them the strollers for their birthday two weeks later. But still, the principal! And after a lot of web research, I’m pretty sure the whole origin story is totally bogus and this company is a Chinese hoax.)

I could have had an assistant do this dirty work for me. But who am I kidding? I could never have an assistant. I have that affliction of Type-A people where I don’t trust anyone to do anything as well as I could do it.  I’ve been advised by many, many people that if I want to grow my business, I have to start outsourcing some work. But how do you outsource I.P.?

I do try to outsource some things. I outsourced buying a stick of deodorant to my husband recently. He said “What kind?” I said, “I don’t really care.” SUCH A LIE. First, he came home with powder-scented Secret. “What is this?” I asked incredulously. “Do you want me to smell elderly!?!?” I stuck it in the medicine cabinet in the guest bedroom. “Try again.”

He did try again. I didn’t like the second kind either. The truth is that I am very particular, but just can’t remember what the kind I like is called. That’s why I have to go get it myself.

See but machine learning could solve this for me. A robot would take accurate note of what kind I bought last time and store it in the dataset. And robots are better at waiting on hold.

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