2017-03-22 / Editorials

Mike Reese

I was recently wandering the aisles of an electronics store, confused by all the latest gadgets, gizmos, and digital this and digital that, most all of which I’d need lengthy tutoring sessions in order to operate them. Conservatively, I’d say that at least 75% of what I saw didn’t exist one or two years ago. I can remember when Daddy sold TVs last century. There was a minimum of five years between notable changes of TV features. Major changes from last years’ models were infrequent. There were portable TVs, then “Instant On” TVs, then a few years later, remote control TVs, and finally color TVs. It took years for all those features to be combined and be included in one TV. Now, we expect new features annually or sooner.

Have you heard of Amazon’s Echo? Think of a Pringles can, but a lot smarter. You ask it questions and “Alexa” answers them. Alexa, how’s the weather today? Who won WWII? (a question a high school student might ask today since knowledge of history today seems to be history). I felt awkward talking to a jacked up potato chip can, but Alexa is amazing.

If my friends or I came to possess an Alexa when we were teenagers, I could imagine the questions my friends would have asked. And homework would have taken only five minutes, thanks to my new friend. How much does a ton of bricks weigh, Alexa? She could have figured out that problem for me in seconds. I could have been Valedictorian with Alexa on my bedside table, none of that troublesome thinking for yourself, annoying research, or irksome trips to the library.

But, knowing my sketchy friends, they would have come up with questions for Alexa that were inappropriate. I would have constantly had to reprimand them, trying to rescue their minds from the gutter, demanding to know how they could possibly have come up with such profane questions for Alexa. Preventing such vacuous behavior by my brainless cohorts was a burden I was given to bare. Lord knows, and they know, how I tried to keep them on a higher plane.

You probably have heard many years ago, before computers were in practically every household, that this day was coming. It was inevitable “they” said. Computer robots are already doing surgery, building cars, diagnosing diseases, and filling your prescriptions.

I’ve read that there will be two kinds of jobs in the future: “those that involve telling computers what to do, and those that involve being told what to do by the computers.”

But I’m already there. I came within a credit card swipe of having Alexa move in with us. But then I remembered, I already have a real flesh and blood Alexa, different name, but more intelligent. For forty-eight years I’ve asked Janice thousands of questions, and not once has she answered by saying, “I don’t know,” and never has she shied away from telling me what she does know. Who needs Alexa? Not me.

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