Why AI Can’t Replace 911 Operators (Hopefully)

Kyle A. Massa
3 min readNov 19, 2023
Image designed by the author using elements from Canva

Here in the United States, if you’ve got an emergency, you’re probably calling one of two numbers: 911, or your mother. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the former.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

This is how 911 operators always answer the phone, and I think it’s a good policy. Otherwise, you might have situations like this…

…[Dial tone.]…

“Hello?”

“HELP! The call was coming from inside the house and now some masked psychopath is trying to murder me!”

“I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number. This is Arby’s. May I take your order?”

You may be wondering how my hypothetical victim dialed Arby’s instead of an emergency hotline, and the simple answer is, I have no idea. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, modern 911 operators know what they’re doing.

You can see it in their choice of question. “What’s your emergency?” Presumptuous, maybe, but also warranted, considering one only calls in dire situations. Surely nobody would ever do something like this…

…[Dial tone.]…

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Just watching the Giants game. You?”

“This number is for emergencies only.”

“I know, that’s why I called. Have you seen Tommy DeVito play quarterback?”

The “what’s your emergency line” isn’t one of those movie inventions, by the way. It’s real. I’ve had occasion to call the police twice in my life, and I assure you, these are the first words spoken when you call.

Now if you’re a cold-hearted individual, that might give you an idea. You might wonder if this job could be outsourced to AI. After all, if all one does is utter a pre-written line and record information, couldn’t that task be automated?

I certainly hope not. Imagine, for example, you found yourself in a life-or-death situation, and when you called 911 looking for help, Siri answered. Here’s the transcript of your conversation…

…[Dial tone.]…

“Siri here, what’s your emergency?”

“Help me, Siri, the masked psychopath has returned…

--

--

Kyle A. Massa

A comedy author living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals.