[lit-ideas] Re: The Answering Machine

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2012 22:30:12 -0500 (EST)

"Robot That Answers Phone Takes Messages" Popular Mechanics, June  1931
In a message dated 1/10/2012 10:29:46 P.M. UTC-02,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:

>Was this [Dummett's]  point?
Avramides in 
"Park Town is where he raised his family, and he was as much a part of Park 
 Town life as he was of university life. Over a cup of tea he would tell a 
story  or make an observation — followed by his infectious giggle. Michael 
once  explained that he made a telephone call only to be put through to the 
answering  machine. He observed: “They call it an answering machine but it’s 
not. You can  ask it questions, but it won’t give you any answers.”"
Well, there are VARIOUS points. This is apocryphal, almost. The quote would 

Avramides, Anita. Dummett on the answering machine.
Avramides, in a longer paragraph, writes a few things. The paragraph  
concludes with:
"Park Town is where he raised his family, and he was as much a part of Park 
 Town life as he was of university life."
------ So, it is an expansion on "Park Town".
"Over a cup of tea [Dummett] would tell a story or make an observation  — 
followed by his infectious giggle."
It is not unfair that the infectious giggle followed, "won't give you any  
"Michael once explained that 
he made a telephone call only 
to be put through to the answering 
The explanation is followed by an observation. This is in contrast with  
current, more boring, scientific practice, where explanation *follows*  
"[Dummett] observed: “They call it an answering machine but it’s not. You  
can ask it questions, but it won’t give you any answers.”"
[Insert infectious giggle].
The humour rests in:
"You can [i.e. MAY] ask 'the answering machine' questions."
"But the answering machine (so miscalled) won't answer them."
-------- In a restricted, and indeed perhaps slightly artificial sense,  
Dummett is right. Note that the inventor of the answeing machine indeed 
wondered  whether 'answering machine' was the best description of the then 
innovative  device. As McEvoy explains, what the 'answering machine' does is:
 "Michael, but they don't call it a 'question-answering machine'"?" 
Indeed, Dummett seems to be restricting 'answer' to 'question-answer'. He  
may argue that the _force_ as per Frege, of 
"On the mat"
qua answer to
'where is the cat?'
differs from the force of 'on the mat' in a different conversational  
context. Keyword: answerhood.
"[An answering machine] answers a phone call in the sense that it  connects 
the caller to a device that allows the caller to leave a  message."
------ It may do to retrieve what the inventor of the device was thinking  
when, back in 1961, he said,
"I'll call it an 'answering machine'". And I wouldn't be surprised if the  
OED3 ends up quoting Avramides on Dummett on the misnaming behind this  
"That is why most people understand the expression 'answering machine'  
without thinking that it is there to answer questions asked of it and are not 
so  foolish to even try (as you appear to)."
---- In this respect, the 'can' used by Dummett is ambiguous:
"You can ask it questions." He wrote.
It may be argued that you MAY ask it questions, but that you canNOT?
"Often even when humans 'answer the phone' they only do so to get  
information or take a message and do not answer any questions."
------- Seeing that 'answer' originally had this strict meaning, perhaps a  
different verb would be needed to qualify the action involved. 
"perhaps you would also like to take issue with the expression 'answer the  
phone' on the basis that no questions are necessarily answered by whoever 
picks  up the receiver, so how do they answer the phone? And indeed the phone 
itself is  simply a vehicle of communication that itself does not 
communicate, so it is  doubly wrong an expression as we do not answer the phone 
respond to the  person ringing."
------ Again, it may do to retrieve what the inventor of 'Answering  
Machine' was thinking back then. Note that in UK it is 'answer' rather than  
'answering' machine, and there are still other variants. McC may know the  
Japanese equivalent and provide Sapir-Whorf cross-cultural generalisations of 
anthropological kind.
"I would climb the stairs to bed at this point rather than indulge you  
further in this witless quibbling except no doubt you will say it is untrue 
that  I 'climb' as, in fact, I use only the soles of my feet and in effect 
'walk up'  the stairs. Unfortunately, Michael, you have typically failed to 
notice  something important - how absolutely pissed I am. I shall climb."
And so on.
For the record, the answering machine or message machine, also known as the 
 telephone answering machine (or "TAM") in the UK and some Commonwealth  
countries, and previously known as an "ansaphone", "ansafone", or "telephone  
answering device" (TAD) is a device for answering telephones and recording  
callers' messages.
Unlike Voicemail, which can be a centralized or networked system that  
performs a similar function, an "answering machine" must be installed in the  
customer's premises alongside — or incorporated within — the customer's  
The "Answering Machine" was originally invented in 1898 by Valdemar  
It was the first practical device used for recording telephone  
Poulsen called his device "telegraphone". The telegraphone (or answering  
machine) laid the foundation for the invention of the answering machines used 
The creation of the first practical automatic answering device for  
telephones is in dispute. 
Many claim it was William Muller in 1935, but most accept it was created in 
 1931 by William Schergens.

The first COMMERCIAL answering machine offered in the US was in  1949, and 
it was called "the Tel-Magnet". This answering machine  (the Tel-Magnet) 
played the outgoing message and recorded the incoming message  on a magnetic 
wire. It was priced at $200 but was not a commercial success, for  some reason.

The first commercially SUCCESSFUL answering machine was "The  Ansafone", 
created by inventor Dr. Kazuo Hashimoto, who was employed by a  company called 
Phonetel. This company began selling the first answering machines  in the 
US in 1960.
While early "answering machines" used magnetic tape technology, most modern 
 equipment uses solid state memory storage.

Some devices use a combination of both, with a solid state circuit for  the 
outgoing message and a cassette for the incoming messages. 
In 1983, Kazuo Hashimoto received a patent for a digital "answering  
machine" architecture with US Patent 4,616,110.
The first DIGITAL 'answering machine' brought to the market was  AT&T's 
An activity led by Trey Weaver. Mr. Hashimoto sued AT&T but  quickly 
dropped the suit because the AT&T architecture was significantly  different 
his patent.
1. On a two-cassette answerphone, there is an outgoing cassette, usually a  
special endless loop tape on earlier machines (before the rise of  
microcassettes), which after a certain number of rings plays a pre-recorded  
to the caller who rang the number. 
2. Once the message is complete, the outgoing cassette stops and the  
incoming cassette starts recording the caller's message, and then stops once 
line is cut.
Single-cassette 'answering' machines contain the outgoing message at the  
beginning of the tape and incoming messages on the remaining space. 
They first play the announcement, then fast-forward to the next available  
space for recording, then record the caller's message. If there are many  
previous messages, fast-forwarding through them can cause a perceptible  delay.
An answerphone may have a remote listening facility whereby the answerphone 
 owner can ring their home number and, by either sending a tone down the 
line  using a special device, or by entering a code on the remote telephone's 
keypad,  can listen to messages when away from home.
----- This is like a meta-answering machine. 
Most modern 'answering' machines have a system for greeting. 
The owner may record his or her message that will be played back to the  
caller, or an automatic message will be played if the owner does not record 
'Answering' machines can usually be programmed to take (or informally,  
'answer', as we may call it) the call at a certain number of rings. 
This is useful if the owner is screening calls and does not wish to speak  
with all callers.
Many devices offer a "toll saver" function, whereby the machine "answers"  
only after several rings (typically 4) if no messages have been left, but  
"answers" after a smaller number of rings (usually 2) if there are messages. 
This allows the owner to know whether there are messages waiting; if there  
are none, s/he can hang up the phone on the third ring without incurring a  
call charge.
Some machines also allow themselves to be activated, if they have been  
switched off, by calling and allowing the phone to ring a certain large number  
of times (usually 10-15).
In call centres, 'answering' machines may have integrated applications of  
artificial intelligence, such as speech recognition software to allow 
computers  to handle first level of customer support, text mining and natural 
language  processing to allow better customer handling, agent training by 
automatic mining  of best practices from past interactions, support automation 
many other  technologies to improve agent productivity and customer 
An example of such applications is Interactive Voice Response (IVR), which  
allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF 
 keypad inputs. 
IVR systems are typically used to service high call volumes, reduce cost  
and improve the customer experience. 
Examples of typical IVR applications are telephone banking, televoting, and 
 credit card services. Companies also use IVR services to extend their 
business  hours to 24/7 operation.
See also: Voicemail


TheFreeDictionary > answering machine Citing: The American Heritage®  
Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton  
Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009.

2.^ ACMI _http://www.acmi.net.au/AIC/POULSEN_BIO.html_ 

3.^ FCC.gov. _http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/kidszone/history_ans_machine.html_ 

4.^ "Robot That Answers Phone Takes Messages" Popular Mechanics, June  1931

5.^ "Robot Takes Messages" , May 1949, Popular Science

6.^ FCC.gov. _http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/kidszone/history_ans_machine.html_ 

7.^ US Patent 4,616,110

8.^ About Inventor Benjamin Thornton

9.^ L Venkata Subramaniam (2008-02-01). "Call Centers of the Future" (PDF). 
 i.t. magazine. pp. 48–51. _http://lvs004.googlepages.com/callcenters.pdf_ 
(http://lvs004.googlepages.com/callcenters.pdf) .  Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
Categories: Telephony1898 introductions

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