12/28/2011 11:06 am ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

Romney Version 2.0 Successfully Interfacing With Humankind, Apparently

The New York Times, which has been following presidential hopeful Mitt Romney around on the campaign trail, published a dispatch today on the way his 2012 campaign seems to be a "carefully crafted do-over" of his 2008 campaign. You may have already noticed that this time out, Romney is no longer running strong on having conceived and enacted an innovative health care reform program while he was the governor of Massachusetts -- now that his idea has been co-opted by the Obama administration, his Commonwealth Care has become something like the bathrobe from those Abilify commercials, an awkward burden he has to carry that makes him sad inside.

But that's not the Times' chief concern. Instead, the paper has a long and exactingly detailed piece on the many firmware upgrades that have been made to Romney's user interface:

A close-up study of Mr. Romney’s casual interactions with voters captures a candidate who can be efficient, funny and self-deprecating, yet often strains to connect in a personal way.

Yes, the recently launched Mitt Romney update is a candidate that features an enhanced mode of communication, in which he reads voters' visages, notes the way they interact with other people, and then starts guessing their ages and relationships as a means of breaking the ice. In case you missed this when Dave Weigel wrote about it in June, here's how it works:

“Sisters?” he asked. (Nope, stepmother and stepdaughter.) “Your husband?” he wondered. (No, just a friend from the neighborhood.) “Mother and daughter?” he guessed. (Cousins, actually.)

The results can be awkward. “Daughter?” he asked a woman sitting with a man and two younger girls at the diner in Tilton, N.H., on Friday morning. Her face turned a shade of red. “Wife.”

Oh, Mr. Romney said. “It was a compliment, I guess,” said the woman, Janelle Batchelder, 31. “At the same time, it was possibly an insult.”

For Romney, it's a process -- specifically a process that's governed by millions of carefully executed neural subroutines. And as Romney processes the information in his environment, he fills the spare seconds with stray facts (“We stayed in the Courtyard hotel last night...[i]t’s a LEED-certified hotel,” says Romney, apropos of nothing), awkward laughter ("Ha-ha," says Romney, adding, "Ha-ha."), a new default greeting ("Congratulations," he says, about everything) and a carefully calibrated set of physical reactions to greeting human beings:

Mr. Romney, never much of a hugger or backslapper, stands with his hands straight down at his waist, tilting forward ever so slightly and turning from side to side as he searches for the next hand to shake or poster to sign.

I was sort of hoping for details on the precise angle of the tilt and the full radius of Romney's new swiveling capabilities, but I guess that's closely guarded proprietary information. Nevertheless, this Times piece is perhaps the closest examination of the new Romney's technical specs that we have on offer, scooping many of America's premiere gadget blogs.

Perhaps the best new feature that Mitt Romney offers is that he will now perform useful calculations for the people he encounters.

But his inner wonk has at times endeared him to potential supporters, as it did at a farm supply store in Lancaster, when Mr. Romney began discussing the intricacies of cow milk with Jessica Hebert, an Obama voter who was at the store.

Mr. Romney delved deeply into the topic, with real curiosity and a barrage of questions, after Ms. Hebert, who has shown dairy cows, explained that a prize animal produced about 100 pounds of milk a day. He began a series of rapid-fire calculations to determine how many gallons are in a pound: “Eight-point-three pounds per gallon. So 8 into 100 is going to be about 13, 14, gallons. Oh, 12 — there you go.”

So, Mitt Romney is like Siri, in that he is friendly in aspect, answers simple questions, and probably will not direct people to any nearby abortion providers.

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