Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Machines Are People, Too

I remember watching Star Wars. I was just a kid, but I remember thinking how silly it was that some of the characters seemed unaware that C3PO and R2D2 were not actually alive, but were in fact sophisticated simulations of life. Silly Luke, treating machines like real people!

I got a little older, and I had a best friend who was cool enough to have a Gigapet. That little thing drove everyone crazy for months. It would bark to be fed at the most inappropriate times. It used to drive the teacher crazy, and apparently there was no "off" switch. The girl was obsessed with feeding this electronic critter. One weekend, she went away to visit a relative and forgot it at home. When she came back, it was dead, and she cried hysterically. It didn't matter that it could be reset, because SHE knew that it had died. I thought that was silly, too.

When I was in college, they invented automatic check-out machines at the supermarket. One day, I was shopping with my grandfather, and when we were finished paying out, the machine said, "Thank you for shopping with us!" My grandfather replied, "Why, you're welcome!" Silly grandfather.

The other day, I called my bank to ask a question about my account balance. It was a question that I knew the automated system would not be able to answer. Now, they have apparently invented technology (I guess it's been around awhile) so that instead of pushing the numbers, you can just say what you want. Normally, I just push the numbers because I feel silly talking to machines as though they were people.

This time, however, I couldn't figure out what button to push to get through to a real person. Finally, at the height of my frustration, I said, "Why can't I just speak to a real person?!"

The machine replied, "Please hold, while I connect you with a representative!"

Surprised, I answered, "Oh! Thank you..."

In the unresponsive silence that ensued, I found myself irritated that the machine had not been taught to say "You're welcome." Turns out I'm just as silly as the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, I have a sneaky suspicion that the day they invent machines capable of faux-politeness is the day that the machines will start plotting to take over the world.

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