My Son May Be Losing a Hobby

Matthew G. Saroff
2 min readJun 30, 2023

He likes to torment telemarketers when they call.

I call it, “Playing with his food,” and now that someone has developed a bot to do this automatically, his skill had been rendered obsolete.

“Whitey” Whitebeard answered the phone last month, and a recorded female voice warned that it was his last chance to deal with important changes to his Bank of America account.

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Whitebeard has a bad habit of talking in circles. That is by design. Whitebeard is a digital contraption that only sounds human. He is the creation of Roger Anderson, a real-life 54-year-old in Monrovia, Calif., who employs chatbots and AI to frustrate and waste the time of telemarketers and scammers.

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Whitebeard stalls for time at the start of phone calls, using chatbot inanities about TV remotes and the like to give a couple of minutes for GPT-4, the OpenAI software, to process the telemarketer’s spiel and generate responses. Once ready, the AI text is fed into a voice cloner, which carries on the conversation.

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Anderson takes pleasure in foiling them. He began his war on telemarketers nearly a decade ago, he said, after one called the family’s landline and said a bad word to his son. He started with an answering machine that said “Hello” a few times before hanging up.

Anderson has since rolled out his weapons of mass distraction. He has posted conversations between man and bot, some lasting as long as 15 minutes before the telemarketer hangs up.

The posts are part of Anderson’s own marketing. He has several thousand customers paying $24.99 a year for use of his call-deflection system, called Jolly Roger. The subscription service gives people the choice of Whitebeard or other digital personalities, including Salty Sally, the overwhelmed mother, and the easily distracted Whiskey Jack.

Making money and torturing telemarketers.

I approve.

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