TIME reporters recorded these creepy phone conversations with a robot telemarketer that, when asked if it is a robot, laughs and insists it is a “real person.”

But was it actually a robot who could understand and reply as quickly? 

Alexis Madrigal from The Atlantic investigated: 

Samantha West is a human being who understands English but who is responding with a soundboard of different pre-recorded messages. So a human parses the English being spoken and plays a message from Samantha West. It is IVR, but the semantic intelligence is being provided by a human. You could call it a cyborg system. Or perhaps an automaton in that 18th-century sense.