Ms. West, I Presume?

The voice on the end of the line is bright and engaging, even for someone selling insurance by phone. But something isn't quite right either. Samantha West, the name she goes by, lets out a charming laugh when asked if she is a real person or something digital. Then she balks at easy small talk: The main ingredient in tomato soup? She says she doesn't understand the question.

It turns out that West is a robot who denies she is a robot--and yet she may be the future of telemarketing. She functions much like a remote-controlled car, operated by a real...

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