Tech Support… Can AI Be Worse? – Hackaday

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You can’t read the news today without another pundit excitedly reporting how AI is going to take every job you can imagine. Of course, AI will change the employment landscape. It will take some jobs and reduce the need for others. What about tech support? Is it possible that an AI might be able to help people with technical issues better than humans? My first answer was no way, but then I was painfully reminded of something. The question isn’t if AI can help you better than any human can. The question is if AI can help you better than the low-paid person on the other end of the phone you are likely to talk to. Sadly, I think the answer to that question is almost certainly yes.

In all fairness, if you read Hackaday, you probably don’t encounter many technical support people who can solve a problem you can’t. By the time you call them, it is a lost cause. But this is more than just “Hackday folks are smarter than the tech support agents.” The overall quality of tech support at many companies is rock bottom no matter who you are.

My Painful Reminder

Not me, but an accurate depiction, nonetheless (photo courtesy of Moose Photos)
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Not me, but an accurate depiction, nonetheless. Credit: Moose Photos

I’ll change some names because — honestly — if I ran the company in question, I’d be embarrassed, and my goal here isn’t to shame a company that is really not any worse than other companies.

I recently was asked to help with what you would think would be a simple problem. An iPhone has intermittent difficulty with group messaging if (and only if) there is an Android phone in the group.

It works most of the time, so that seems to rule out some problem with the phone itself. It also only happens when an Android is in the mix, so it shouldn’t really be a connectivity problem. I know that the Android group messaging uses MMS, so it seems likely to relate to that, but MMS to a single person seems to work reliably, too. My initial suspicion is that the MMS setup in the carrier’s APN is borked. Too bad, the iPhone is locked up to wher you can’t see the APN (apparently, that’s an option the carrier can allow or not allow).

The carrier’s 800 number was my first stop. Of course, you get the usual. “Did you turn it off and on?” “Did you do a network reset?” After about a half hour of useless questioning, the tech announced that he’s found the problem: “iPhones can’t text Android phones.” Problem solved. I explained to him that this was clearly not true and the fact that it worked most of the time makes that pretty obvious. I asked to have the call escalated, but I have noticed that works much less often then it used to.

Round Two

I found that the company had a sub-Reddit and that, supposedly, their Reddit account was the fast track to the miracle workers in tech support. So I wrote a detailed message to them explaining what was happening, what had been done, and so on. I was very detailed with several lists explaining that the phones were reset, they were up to date on software, that it didn’t matter which Android phone was involved and so on.

I get a reply. Hopefully, I opened up. “Have you turned the phone on and off?”

“Yes, as I mentioned in my post.”

“I see. Are both phones up to date on software?”

“Did you read my first post? Yes.”

“Does it happen with just one Android phone?”

“Ok, so you aren’t really reading my messages, correct?”

The AI Solution

It is hard to imagine ChatGPT would have done worse. At least, it would probably remember what I had already said. So, I think there is a use for this sort of technology if smart companies adopt it correctly.

Sorry guys, AI can’t do worse! (Photo [Yan Krukau] ” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ class=”wp-image-671526 size-medium” src=”″ alt width=”400″ height=”306″ srcset=” 4929w,,191 250w,,306 400w,,611 800w,,1173 1536w,,1564 2048w” sizes=”(max-width: 400px) 100vw, 400px”>
Sorry guys, AI can’t do worse! Credit: Yan Krukau

Here’s the wrong way: don’t fire all your tech support and replace them with AI. Also, don’t fire everyone in tech support who makes more than minimum wage and keep the rest to watch the chatbots talk to people and pretend to be managers when someone complains.

Instead, it seems to me that AI bots could act as a great filter and leave you with very few highly skilled people backing them up. If you do it right, that doesn’t even have to be their full-time job. Use them for some other things too. After all, they are smart.

Let’s face it. The script-based tech support exists because — a lot of the time — it works. Uncle Fred doesn’t know how to reset the network on his phone. Why waste a skilled person’s time explaining it to him when someone can just read off the steps? The problem is, not everyone who calls is Uncle Fred.


I suspect this will be true in a lot of areas. Power tools and robot arms allow you to manufacture things with fewer people. But use that savings to do better, not just pocket the cash and turn out trash. Like most tools, AI can help us do better, or it can help us do worse, cheaper. The choice is up to us and the companies we buy from.

We’ve mentioned that AI is like the worst summer intern ever. But that seems to be the caliber of many people we talk to on helplines. If we can’t have AI support, we might settle for an 8 ball.

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