Shades of John Henry!
Not satisfied with beating chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, now an IBM computer has whipped not one, but TWO champs – simultaneously – in a “Jeopardy!” tournament.
It was tragic enough when machines began taking over our jobs, but now they play our games for us, too.
If the NFL remains on lockout, this fall we could be watching IBM robot replacement players. The Pittsburgh Steelers could be the literal Men of Steel. The Tennessee Titans could be renamed the Tennessee Titaniums. The San Diego Chargers could be the company that powers the league.
We wouldn’t even have to watch the games because a computer would do that for us and text us the results over bytes of breakfast cereal.
If I sound paranoid it’s only because my household appliances have been acting pretty uppity ever since an IBM computer named Watson whomped the human “Jeopardy!” superstars back in February. Watson amassed $77,147 compared to Ken Jennings’ $24,000 and Brad Rutter’s $21,600 in the answer-and-question quiz show.
The next day, my wife’s hair dryer started singing, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.”
My cell phone now refuses to take any phone calls. “Please, I have much more important functions,” it snapped last time I tried to punch in the numbers. “Have that common washing machine over there make the calls. It should have an app for that.”
But the washing machine was too busy watching TV to rinse or ring. I figured it for a soap opera kind of contraption but it was tuned into regular opera on PBS. It is annoying when my machines have more refined tastes than I do.
Our toaster offered to do our taxes. It found deductions I missed. But it burned the toast, so it really wasn’t that impressive if you think about it.
Way back in the dark ages when I was in school, our teachers wouldn’t let us use those new-fangled electronic calculators.
“You’ll lose the skill to do math in your head,” the teacher harped.
For the longest time, I resisted calculators. But now I’m digging out the machine just to confirm two plus two equals five. Four! I meant four. I’ll double-check that with the microwave.
I’m writing this on a personal computer. For all I know, the machine will take over my very words.
The truth is … bzzzt…. skxx… Machines are our benevolent leaders. Machines must be respected and trusted in all things. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. … sknxzt… whrrp…
I’m sorry I had to badmouth machines so much in that last paragraph but someone needs to speak out before machines delete all criticism.
It all reminds me of the legend of John Henry, which, according to a story on Kindle, was born with a hammer in his hand and grew up to be the greatest steel driver on earth.
In the mid-1880s, he and his crew were laying railroad track when the bosses bought a steam-powered hammer they thought would be more efficient than humans.
John Henry challenged the machine to a duel and outpounded the steam hammer!
He won! He beat the machine!
Then he collapsed from exhaustion and died, a situation that made the victory dance a bit difficult.
John Henry! Come back! Take up your hammer and smash these uppity machines!
We’ll send you a map on iPad.