Tag Archives: chatbots

The Story of Lenny, the Internet’s Favorite Telemarketing Troll [Motherboard]

“Lenny” is a chatbot designed to waste telemarketers’ time – brilliantly simple, he sounds like a chatty old man with an Australian accent who leads telemarketers on and never gets to the point.

According to a Reddit post by the person who claims to be the voice and creator of the Lenny chatbot, he sought to create a “telemarketer’s worst nightmare.” This, he decided, would be “a lonely old man who is up for a chat, proud of his family, and can’t focus on the telemarketer’s goal.”

The final result was a chatbot that consists of 16 stock phrases played in order. The first four phrases are scripted so as to encourage the telemarketers to begin their sales pitch and the last 12 phrases are played in a loop until the telemarketer hangs up. Lenny is powered by an interactive voice script, a software program that listens for one-and-a-half second pauses in the conversation so that it knows when to say the next phrase in the loop.

To those in the know, Lenny’s persona is hilarious. He has a thick Australian accent, a bit of a lisp, and talks excruciatingly slow. When a telemarketer calls, users can forward the call to Lenny, who answers the phone and eagerly assents to whatever the telemarketer is calling about. As the conversation progresses, however, Lenny’s responses get increasingly off topic. At one point he begins telling the telemarketer how proud he is of his family and then later he has to get off the line to go silence some ducks that can be heard quacking in the background.

After nearly a decade of existence, Lenny has garnered something of a cult following. Lenny is available on a public server so anyone can forward their telemarketing calls to the chatbot. There’s a dedicated subreddit chronicling Lenny’s interactions with telemarketers, and hundreds of audio recordings of Lenny have been uploaded to YouTube, often attracting hundreds of thousands of views.