Oh, great. As if my job was not hard enough already with trying to cover the plethora of bridge openings in Marietta while trying to figure out where commas go, now I am hearing that artificial intelligence could replace me.
I just read a piece about the rise of artificial intelligence in Sweden. A packaging company is using artificial intelligence to determine how long it needs to cook its wood chips before they turn into pulp. While that process could be done manually, the company says it would be difficult to find any human willing to spend all day doing that. It is a known fact that nobody in Sweden wants to spend all day looking at wood chips cooking. They would rather be yodeling.
Now, here is the scary part. One of Europe’s largest paper and packaging makers has found another application for AI by having it take over much of the work of its legal department in analyzing contracts. This would free up lawyers to do what they do best — suing anything that moves.
It is one thing to monitor wood chips or to act like a lawyer (assuming you can talk a machine into doing that. I suspect there are some things even a computer won’t do), but artificial intelligence is beginning to make inroads into the mainstream of our society.
You may remember that IBM’s Big Blue defeated Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997. Kasparov resigned after 19 moves, which in chess talk means he was getting his human fanny kicked by the computer.
In 2011, another IBM program called Watson competed against two long-time champions on “Jeopardy!” and won the first-place prize of $1 million. Watson was very excited until he realized Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper makes that much in a week and is only hitting .227. Watson just about blew his motherboard.
We already have Alexa and Siri and Google Assistant around to turn on our lights, microwave our popcorn, play our favorite accordion music and tell us who was emperor of China in 1261 (Zhao Yun, the 14th emperor of the Song dynasty.) So, I ask, how long will it be before a machine rumbles up to the MDJ offices and announces it is ready to write witty, mesmerizing, award-winning columns with all the commas where they are supposed to be?
Since the editors will be unable to recall the last time a human submitted them a witty, mesmerizing, award-winning column with all the commas where they are supposed to be, that would be a tantalizing offer, no doubt.
I am not telling the editors how to do their job even though they are always telling me how to do mine, but I would suggest they think carefully before falling for a smooth-talking robot in their office.
Maybe artificial intelligence can make popcorn and play accordion music and toss some commas around but are they going to be able to understand the intricacies of Cobb County government? It is one thing to thwart a chess master’s Sicilian Defense with the Alapin Variation or to win a TV game show by knowing that Sanskrit is an ancient language, not a bag of concrete, but is artificial intelligence smart enough to figure out how a county that is rolling in money can’t reduce taxes because of hanging exemptions? Let’s see Big Blue try that one.
How is Siri going to take it when he/she/it beams in an insightful opinion meant to cover all sides of an issue in exquisite detail and is immediately denounced as “snail poo?” Or “racist redneck?” Or “bed-wetting liberal?” I would remind the editors that it is a lot easier to make popcorn and play accordion music than to be subjected to the slings and arrows of humor-impaired wingnuts.
And would Google Assistant give a flying Fortran about Jack and Jill, the two mules who were unceremoniously kicked out of Cobb County and sent to either Montana or Canada? I get those two places mixed up but I’m not sure whoever is assisting Google would know the difference, either. Artificial intelligence hasn’t come all that far yet.
While AI can create driverless cars, operate drones, trade stocks and play a fair game of chess, does anyone really think a machine can cover a bridge opening? I mean, really? Knowing who was emperor of China in 1261 is one thing, bridge openings are a whole other deal.
I can just hear the editors say, “Alexa, cover a bridge opening.” To which Alexa replies, “Are you kidding? That is way out of my league. Much, much too complex for me. I just do popcorn.”
If the editors are still leaning toward replacing me with artificial intelligence, I would remind them that not only do I do bridge openings, I can do popcorn, too. And my intelligence is about as artificial as they come. Who knows? Maybe one day, I will even figure out hanging exemptions.