Friday, September 20, 2013

Honey? The Terminator's On the Fritz Again!

When the machines finally do take over, I’m not sure anyone will notice the difference.

The problem with the Robot Apocalypse as it is usually presented in novels and films is that it rests on the notion that these machines are somehow better than us.  In some ways, perhaps they are.  It’s easy to make a machine that can go faster or hit harder or carry around more information than a human being, and if you extrapolate from there you can imagine a world of perfectly coordinated machines running things in icy lockstep.

But then you smack into the brick wall that says, “Wait a minute – who programmed these things, anyway?”  And suddenly the Robot Apocalypse moves from tragedy to farce, because the answer is, of course, “The same people who brought you Windows 8.”

Really, all we’ll have to do is sit quietly, reading our hardbound books and playing with wooden toys, until the machines end up charging madly into the river with their laser guns set to “massage.”

This thought occurred to me yesterday as I was listening to the fifth robo-called message in less than an hour from a major airline announcing that a flight boarding a thousand miles away was going to be delayed a further twelve minutes, a bit of information which – while perhaps not welcome, as it meant that Kim was going to be late getting back from her conference – was completely useless to me.

I don’t really get computers, or any technology more complicated than a ballpoint pen.  Oh, I can use it, given enough time to figure it out, but it’s all just magic boxes to me.  I hit a few keys, mumble the proper incantations, and something gets produced at the other end.  I could no more explain the intervening steps than I could tell you what the color blue smells like.

And sometimes I’m not all that convinced that anyone else gets it either. 

We live in a world of increasing complexity, speed, and interdependence.  We offload more and more of our tasks onto the things we create, and we trust that those things will do what we tell them to do.  Mostly they do, which is sort of the problem, since few people have any real idea of how to give directions carefully.  And then they don’t, which is the other part of the problem.

I’m sure the airline felt that they were doing a service by leaving these messages for me, and really they were so, so close to providing useful information that it’s almost heartbreaking.  I have decided to see this as a positive thing, because I need more positive vibes in my world these days. 

I am safe from the Robot Apocalypse, because the robots don’t know what they’re doing either.


Eric said...

Isn't the flaw in your reasoning that you're assuming the robots apocalypize on purpose? Maybe they won't be trying to take over at all. Maybe they will be baffled we keep dying when they're just trying to give us hugs. Maybe we will all be nuked by a vast artificial evidence attempting to move all those missiles someplace safer where they're much less trouble. Maybe we will be enslaved by a macroeconomic efficiency subroutine that was just trying to reduce the unemployment rate.

What if the robot apocalypse is just them helping us to death?

Sorry. No immunity for you, pal. You're screwed with the rest of us.

David said...

Way to harsh my mellow, dude...

TimBo said...

Some good news, robots don't use Windows. They special Robotic Operating Systems. The bad news is that there still isn't anybody who understands them completely either. See you at the apocalypse.

TimBo said...

They USE special ...

Why isn't there a comment edit button?

David said...

Because that just proves my point, Tim. ;)