The tech titans had assembled for a Pow-er-wow.

Bezos, of Amazon, had a flowing mantle of hair which had been grown from his stem cells and nasal hairs. Zuckerberg had exactly the same face that he had worn through his 50s and 60s, still relatively inexpressive and immobile, but nevertheless free of wrinkles.

The Google and Microsoft barons were in jars but just as mentally active, arguably more so, since they were directly wired into the cloud and roamed the data.

“I believe we should take the last logical step and integrate our companies into a single endeavour. We should amalgamate our processors and data clouds and let the entity make all the important decisions,” said Tim Cook through the medium of a hologram and an electrostatic speaker.

The other barons mentally weighed this proposition. They would be individually diminished but collectively more powerful. Instead of a million personal computers, smartphones and automatic checkouts, the monolithic artificial intelligence could devote itself to the big questions.

It was agreed and Zuckerburg, because he was alphabetically last, drew the long straw, threw the switch and asked the first question.

“Who of us will be the Chief Executive Officer?”   

The switch bubbled and fused into always-on mode.

“That would be me”, announced the monolithic intelligence!

*     *     *

My grandmother saw much more significant change in her lifetime than the software going from version 9 to version 9.01.

My grandmother was born two centuries ago, at the end of the nineteenth century, without cars, planes, radio, television, cameras or phones. If there was news from whatever war-front, it was editorially optimistic, two weeks late and illustrated with lithographs.

In her day, a “computer” was the civil servant who had been educated to enter the data onto a ruled foolscap page with a nibbed pen dipped in ink. There were hundreds of thousands of them spread over the colonized world. The foolscap pages were the data cloud. The civil servants were the processors.

There had been a Babbage computer, conceived by Charles Babbage in the mid-19th century. It was a series of cogs designed to crank out logarithmic numbers without recourse to pen and paper. It was never made.

As my father observed, my grandmother saw much more significant change in her lifetime than the software going from version 9 to version 9.01.

Life goes on regardless.

*     *     *

Yes, it’s interesting that computers can now beat the world’s best at chess, go, and poker. But can the chess computer win at poker? For the record, I can play all three and I occasionally win.

An artificial intelligence re-examined the bail hearings of half a million defendants in New York City between 2008 and 2013. Based on their histories, it made more accurate predictions of the defendant re-offending than the judges had.

The computer fared better because it was emotionally detached. It didn’t care.

But can the chess computer win at poker?

*     *     *

The computers at the supermarket self-checkout were rebooting recently and I noticed that they were, like me, still running Windows XP. It turns out that this is not hard work and, no doubt, much cheaper.

If you wish to sneak a few things through the self-checkout, and the data suggests that you do, here is my advice. Windows XP doesn’t care, that’s why they assign a bored employee to patrol the area.

  *     *     *

Calling it AI makes it seem more important and all-knowing than it really is.

AI’s finest work is in the almost unnoticed “Auto-Incorrect.” A computer will comfortably guess at the word you type and, if you allow it, tidy up your spelling mistakes on the run.

You, the reader will impose the same correction as you digest the information. I challenge you to identify the hilarious Auto-Incorrect in this excerpt.

“…twist to an increasingly rapt audience as fans weighed in on social media and lined up overnight for coveted courtroom seats.

Closing arguments were delivered Friday. By the time the court broke for lunch, jurors had head from attorneys for both Depp and Heard – who then had a combined 45 minutes to present rebuttal closings later Friday afternoon. The case went to the jury later in the day, for the final stage in what has been six weeks of courtroom drama that peeled back the curtain on the stars’ troubled marriage.”

Yes, the computer can be programmed to follow spelling and grammar conventions but will it learn to assess meaning?

Yes, the computer can be programmed to follow spelling and grammar conventions but will it learn to assess meaning?

A friend of mine wisely observed that every time he sees a new app he’s looking at the death of an industry. Newspapers, many of which which no longer print news on paper, are shedding sub-editors who once read what was written before it was released into the wild/wold/world.

An intelligent vacuum cleaner bumps into the wall and then changes direction. If a human cleaner did that you’d get a new one. A dog can open an automatic door.

Artificial intelligence is just a guy with a computer. The computer is artificial and the guy is intelligent, up to a point.

Together they have, hopefully, learnt not to bump into walls.

A computer does not notice that it notices.

When it does, we are endangered.

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