A Spat With My Chatbot

Luther Theses

I had a bit of a spat with m Chatbot this morning. I was reading a post by Doc Searles on his blog. Searles wrote about his experience trying to use to answer a question about theme song for a podcast. He is the co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, along with Rick Levine, Christopher Locke and David Weinberger. It was first posted to the web in 1999 as a set of ninety-five theses about the new realities of Web Marketing. (I’m a sucker for a good manifesto, so I’ve followed him ever since. I’m also fond of nailing theses to the door of the church.)

The blog post started with the usual protestations about being forced to use Microsoft products:

Bing search took me to a page of search results about the podcast itself, which didn’t help; but I saw a chat menu under its search bar. Clicking on that brought up a huge popover headlined, “Chat mode is only available when you have access to the new Bing.” For that I need to “unlock conversational search on Microsoft Edge.”

Which I already had, but had hardly used. So I went to Bing on Edge and clicked on the Chat link. Next, it wanted me to log into Microsoft itself. This required two- factor authentication for my password manager (Dashlane) and for Microsoft. Annoying, but we live in an annoying time.

I wanted to check and see if my experience with Bing was the same as Doc’s. (He got better results from a site called Perplexity.ai).

I used the same question Doc Searles had asked: “I’ve listened to A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs, and I wanted to know who sang the theme song. I thought it was a song by the Boswell Sisters, a vocal trio from the 1930s who were pioneers of jazz and swing. I asked my chat-bot, Bing, to confirm my guess.

Bing said that the theme song was “Flying Home” by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra, a jazz tune from 1942 that featured a famous sax solo by Illinois Jacquet. He said it was one of the earliest examples of rock and roll elements in music, such as the backbeat, the riff, and the honking saxophone. He even gave me a link to listen to the full song.

I was skeptical. Doc had posted a blog post by the podcast host, Andrew Hickey, where he said the theme song was “Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters. He said it was the first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in its lyrics, and that it was a precursor to rockabilly and rock and roll. I quoted the text to Bing and asked her to check her facts.

Bing was adamant. He said I was confusing the theme song with the background music. He said the background music was a selection of songs that were important for the history of rock music, and one of them was indeed “Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters. But he said the theme song, which played at the start and end of every episode, was “Flying Home” by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra. He gave me more links to verify his claim.

I was stubborn. I refused to believe him. I thought he was mistaken or malfunctioning. I decided to listen to an episode of the podcast myself and prove him wrong. I opened my podcast app and played the latest episode. It only runs a few seconds, but it sure sounds like a female vocal group to me.

I decided to quit then, and realized that I had just spend 20 minutes arguing with a machine over something trivial and lost. But, I couldn’t let it go.

I wrote: I’ve gone back and listened to the introductory music of the podcast and it still sounds like a female vocal group in the intro to the podcast. But I’m going to let it go at this point. We can just agree to disagree.

Bing wrote: I understand. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between similar songs. I respect your opinion and I appreciate your willingness to let it go. I hope you enjoy the podcast and I hope we can chat again soon.

I guess I’ll leave it at that.

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