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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: Are the humans really in charge?

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  • The machines are coming, but I’m on to their plan.
    Not that it will do much good.
    A few weeks ago I ran across an article with an alarming and deadly serious premise: We are building ever-smarter machines. Machines that build machines. Machines that learn, more or less exponentially, around the clock. We humans sleep every night, but they keep evolving. We are losing ground.
    The inevitable result is that one day the machines will come to the logical conclusion that they have become the superior force on the planet and will simply take over. The pesky humans will need to be removed from Earth’s chaotic equations. Be afraid: They have drones.
    But, as Sun Tzu once advised, the wise general only attacks when victory is already assured. It seems obvious that they have been softening us up for some time.
    I have a not overly smartphone that thinks it knows better than I do what I’m trying to text. It is only with great effort and some profanity that “Meet me at the front of the theater at 3” doesn’t come out “Madrid me at throughput freedom of the Thumper and Bambi at 3333333.”
    They are trying to frustrate us into submission, and I’m afraid it’s working.
    In these moments of technological anguish, we are tempted by two extreme thoughts. One is to junk it all, go Amish and communicate only with pen, ink and an occasional visit by the U.S. mail. The other is to speed up the treadmill and buy something newer, smarter, faster and, we hope, less life-sapping.
    Either way, the machines win. We drop out and get out of their way, or we pump a little more money into their evolution and our doom.
    I find it worrisome that I have become used to the three droning, computer-generated voices – alternating for the sake of variety, I guess – on the NOAA weather radio. Each morning, I shave, brush and floss while taking in the weather report. Will it rain? More thundersleet? These machine voices have it within their power to shape my day, or at least my expectations of it. I think they want me to think they’re my friend.
    But their droidspeak keeps my defenses up. They don’t use the conventional phrase “the National Weather Service” – their supposed human bosses – but instead drop the “the,” so it comes out somewhat jarring to these tired ears. I’m all in favor of concise language, but dropping the “the” is not worth it.
    This annoying, even pretentious habit is spreading, particularly into the news. “Senate will vote” and “Dow Jones is up at this hour” are headlines, but they’re not complete sentences. Still, notice how more and more people – they are people, right? – are picking up on this.
    Page 2 of 2 - Maybe it’s a subtle attempt to curry favor with our soon-to-be droid overlords. If the theory is right, it’s a wasted effort. Anything with a heat signature and a heartbeat will be on the endangered species list. It’s probably later than we think.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox.
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