We have a long-running debate in my household.
My youngest son is convinced that, once the robots finally take over, they’ll get rid of us all; we’ll be useless, compared to them, primitive and useless.
I, though, agree with Ray Kurzweil. We believe that the robots will look after us because they’ll be, in effect, our descendants. Most of us don’t kill off our grandparents once they become dependent on us, we look after them. As for my oldest son, he thinks my youngest son and I are mad … though now and then, when we’re talking about the development of the human/machine interface, I’ve heard him mumble, “Nobody’s putting Microsoft Windows in ‘my’ head!”
Still, I think there may be another possibility – the damn things will irritate us to death. In fact, I think they’ve already started. They’ve certainly been having a good go at me recently. As I look around, everything seems to be breaking.
I should state up front that machines – in particular computers – and I have always had a difficult time. That’s ironic considering I’m an e-commerce consultant and computer-book author. But it’s true, and my difficult relationship with computers has actually helped me in some ways.
Want to find all the bugs in your new program? Give it to me, I’ll find them. The number of times I’ve heard, “But nobody else has complained about that,” as if somehow the fact that only one person has found a problem means the problem can’t exist.
I can get computers to break, but it’s more than that. I can get computers to confess their weaknesses. I seem to be able to see software bugs, like I have X-ray vision glasses. If a computer can break, it will break for me.
The last week or two I’ve had the misfortune to experience a whole bunch of these problems all strung together, beginning about 10 days ago when Windows Vista decided it wasn’t going to work anymore; it just wouldn’t boot. This was the second time Vista had stopped, and although the first time I was able to get it fixed, this time I couldn’t. To cut a long story short, I lost most of a week of work, as I had to reinstall Vista and all my software; had to reinstall again after a sophisticated backup program killed my drive when it tried to partition it; ran into problems with my Windows Home Server; ran into the usual Windows-networking problems – networking is always a delight with Windows, but even more of a delight with Windows Vista, and enough to take a day to figure out.
My computer is up and running. My network is doing fine. Everything’s good right now, but the machines are still out to get me.
My phone’s sick. People call to complain that I’ve dialed them a dozen times in rapid succession, while my phone has been sitting, untouched, on my desk. It also occasionally plays music, unprompted and sometimes won’t let me dial. My oldest son’s phone died recently, too, though I swear I hadn’t been near it. I’ll have to send my phone back, though I bought it recently when my last phone died.
The garage-door-opener switch has stopped working; the one in the car works, but nine times out of 10 times pressing the button in the garage doesn’t. My mouse stopped working yesterday, though admittedly I got it running by just switching batteries. Speaking of which, I replaced the battery on my bathroom scales a few days ago, and yet now when I stand on the scales all I see is “lo.”
The Jawbone bluetooth headset my kids bought me for my birthday is going back. The piece that inserts into the ear snapped off. Oh, that reminds me, it’s not just electronics.
I returned a ladder recently that could open, but was almost impossible to close. My girlfriend’s audio system won’t turn off. She tells me it’s the spirits that keep turning it back on every time I turn it off, but I know it’s just that the stupid thing hates me. My swamp cooler’s thermostat stopped working recently then started working again. I don’t know why, but I think that once it had convinced me to climb up on the roof to check the water pump, it had had enough fun, but it’s just waiting to play the same game again sometime soon (probably on the hottest day of the summer).
Yes, machines hate me, and I haven’t even mentioned cars, yet. There’s more, much more, than I can fit into this space.
No, the robots won’t kill us.
Living with them will be so damn irritating they’ll drive us out into the wilderness to live as far from them as we can get.
Peter Kent is an e-commerce consultant in Denver. He’s currently working with e-book software company DNAML, www.DNAML.com, to introduce its products to U.S. publishers.