“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid can’t do that”  | JIM FURLONG

The title of this piece is a well-known line  from Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.  You know it. It was my first encounter with artificial intelligence (AI), at least as an evil character. The computer saying the line in the movie was HAL. The movie was from 1968, I think, and it did not bother me at all. I was probably stoned. That is the way things were then.

It is only in recent years that the issue of AI has made its way into the headlines and into our consciousness as a serious matter. It finally got my attention in a serious kind of way. I always thought of computers, and the technology of which they were part, as helpful and ‘on my side’. Back in the 1970s I did have an electronic chess set that I just couldn’t beat but that was only annoying. I would make a move and input the move into the computer and its lights would flash and it would reply instantly with its own move. Occasionally, I made a move that was good and it gave the computer pause and it would blink its lights a couple of times before responding. It was thinking and I loved that. It was a tiny victory but I still couldn’t actually beat the computer game. Not to worry, no big deal.

I still loved the world of computers and information, but it was really an odd admiration on my part. I wondered why after I attended a funeral in a town in Trinity Bay and made a phone call there, I kept getting ads on my phone from the restaurant in the community, the gas stations, and a sod farm. I was dead curious but so what. It’s not like a machine followed me home or something. Everything I just kept in perspective. It was just an “information” sharing thing. Yes, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that the clerk at a St. John’s box store where I was buying a AAA battery needed to know where to mark down and input my phone number. Really? Why? He wanted to give it to a computer. 

None of that really caught my attention in a serious way until I tried to sign on, by computer, to a website that I needed to visit. I was asked to mark down in a little box on my screen a series of numbers and letters to show I wasn’t a bot. The computer wanted me to show it that I wasn’t a computer before we proceeded any further. Now, the question occurred to me and it was like a revelation. Who is asking me to prove I am human? Am I talking to a person or a computer asking me to prove my humanity to it?What really upsets me is that I know someone who recently enlisted a computer program to help write an assignment paper. That is more than I can take. It raises fundamental questions that are troubling such as who is running this place. “This place” is the world.