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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Musical phone introductions

I have lots of ideas about how to deal with annoyances in everyday life. Some of them are from many years ago but may actually still apply. Since the older ones haven't been published before, I occasionally write about them to get them in front of a wider audience.

000-000-0000 - UNAVAILABLE -

This particular half-baked idea is in the realm of identifying incoming phone calls. I was inspired by a rash of annoyance calls which were all showing up as "unidentified" or with similarly bogus info. This was back when it was relatively difficult for ordinary people to send useless data when they placed outgoing calls. Now it's available to anyone with a web browser and a headset, so it may be more important now.

Instead of trusting inbound caller ID data, have a process which answers every single incoming call. You have to make the call "supervise" to open an audio channel, so there's no way around that. In the old days you might worry about people's long distance bills and things like that, but the world has changed. Answer them all and let the software sort it out.

Your robo-answerer will play a short introductory sequence of notes at relatively low volume which won't annoy a real human. This is intended to announce to the caller that this authentication process is available (and expected) on this call. If there's a compatible device on the calling side, it will hear these notes and will respond with more in kind. The two ends will effectively perform some kind of audio handshake to establish who they are. This could happen with ordinary modem type tones, but that's dull and irritating. My idea goes beyond that.

Notice how I said "notes", not "tones". This system should be based around a short musical sequence. One end plays a few notes, then the other replies in kind, and soon they're going at it simultaneously. It would be just like that scene in Close Encounters where the spaceship and the ground computer start talking automatically, but nowhere near as loud!

This service would be easy to advertise: two cell phones shown as vaguely-human-shaped robots. One walks up and emits a short tune, the other responds in kind, and soon they're playing a duet and waltzing around. Or, for marketing to a younger crowd, the musical style is completely different, and the dancing changes too. Let your imagination run wild. The sequences should sound pleasing to the people using the devices.

In any case, after this challenge-response handshake had completed, then the receiver's phone would actually ring if appropriate. It might also command the network to divert the call to voicemail or something else entirely. For instance, what about having a huge conference call where blocked callers are routed? Let all of those telemarketers and survey weenies talk to each other! As a plus, there might be some amazingly funny recordings to come out of that as they try to figure out what's going on. "I called you!" "No, you called me!"

Even if the call diversion stuff isn't possible owing to a lack of flexibility in phone provider networks, the rest of it would still be possible. Your phone could (in theory) answer every single call and put it through this kind of analysis before deciding to dump it or not. You wouldn't need any particular help from your carrier to do this. It would just take a phone which could be programmed to act by itself on incoming calls.

The obvious problem here is the usual chicken-and-egg limitation of trying to introduce something which requires support on both ends. About the only good news here is that cell phones tend to be replaced fairly often these days. That makes it possible to get something out there in decent quantities inside a relatively short amount of time.

I have to admit that I'd love to see this become reality if only to experience the sync variations caused by differences in music from members of different generations. Imagine a kid who lets herself in after school and calls her mom to say everything is OK. Mom's phone answers with some '80s synth type stuff and the kid's phone acks with dubstep, and yet, it still works!

That could be really neat.