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Here’s the Register article.

Two basic points to the article:

  1. Some Japanese researchers have concluded that computers are making us stupid because we let them remember things for us and they toss so much information at us that we get overloaded.
  2. We want computers and robots to be our friends.

Memory Is Not Intelligence

The Japanese comments are just silly. All computers do is shift the relative value of certain mental skills in daily life.

A thousand years ago, before printing and general literacy, memory was a very valuable skill. That was because you didn’t have anything else. Books were very scarce and expensive because they had to be hand-copied, and most people couldn’t read them, anyway.

When you don’t have a book to grab, or can write something down, you’d better remember the important stuff. So people put a great deal of effort into memorizing.

If you were really good at it, and could remember a whole lot by heart, you had a well-paying job doing just that and reciting what you memorized on demand.

Today, though, you just grab a book and read it.

It’s a hangover from those ancient days that people still equate memory with intelligence. It isn’t.

Memory is the fuel; intelligence is the engine. It really doesn’t matter where the fuel comes from, your head, a book, or a computer screen. If the fuel gets to the engine fast enough, that’s good enough.

I play in what I guess you could call a trivia league. I’m pretty good at it, but there certainly are people better at it than me. Some much better.

I’ve noticed something dealing with these folks, though. More often than not, these folks may know tons and tons of things, but they’re not particularly bright. They have the fuel stockpiled and ready, but they’re much better at recalling it than using it.

My point is not that excellent memory/intelligence is an either/or; it’s that it isn’t necessarily an “and.” The two aren’t synonymous.

There’s also a cultural difference. The Japanese educational system stresses memorization; the American educational system seems to avoid it.

Both are faulty. The Japanese worry too much about the fuel and not enough about the engine. The Americans worry a lot about the engine, but don’t fuel it properly or rev it up regularly.

If you always have a computer within hand’s reach that can retrieve information for you anytime and anywhere (a world we’ll have fairly shortly), the desired skill is not memorization. Dumb silicon can do that, and better than you. Rather, the desired skills are being able to find the information you want, quickly; figure out what’s important and unimportant, quickly; then be able to use it, quickly.

Notice the common denominator?

The first is a library skill on steroids; the latter requires better mental abilities than just memorizing. They are engine tasks, not fuel line tasks.

Information on the Internet is unfiltered. It may be good; it may be bad, you have to figure out which it is. That means you have to think and weigh and judge. Much harder than just remembering what some authority tells you.

On the whole, I’d call that a greater mental challenge than memorizing facts and figures. It just uses different mental muscles.

We Want Them To Like Us!

The PC is not politically correct. It is not tolerant. You do things its way or no way. It does not adjust for socioeconomic background or challenges. It’s not kind or gentle at all; it’s the automated version of that nasty elementary school teacher you once had.

If a PC were a real person, it would be classified as near sociopath by today’s standards. It’s the most abusive tool you have. When was the last time your screwdriver accused you of something illegal or said you were in error?

I suspect most normal people don’t want the PC to be their friend, just stop being the enemy.

You’ve Got A Friend?

Many cultures draw a strict line between acquaintances and friends. You can work with people for twenty years in many countries and never invite them to your house. Friends are few, but deep.

In America (and maybe other places nowadays), the lines are blurred to the point of meaninglessness. In America, you don’t call acquaintances acquaintances. Everyone is your friend, even the people you hate. However, your “friendships” are often a mile long, and an inch deep.

This confuses many Americans, who end up with a ton of “friends” but no friends. This can lead to some bizarre behavior.

Strike up a non-romantic acquaintance with someone, and show some sympathetic willingness to listen, and you are often soon hearing, totally unsolicited, about the person’s sexual problems, sometimes in as little as a half-hour. And being asked for advice about them.

This does not mean Americans are exhibitionist libertines; it means they hunger for emotional intimacy, and grab for any likely opportunity, however inappropriate.

If you don’t know what true emotional intimacy is (especially if you’re self-centered), a sympathetic robot begins to sound pretty good.

Forget about the likelihood of building one of these any time soon, but a lot of lonely people might really like the idea of a talking obedient faithful pet.

Before you scoff at the impracticality of this, if all a person knows is shallow relationships, just how complicated would the programming have to be? How much effort does it take to come up with enough variations of the word “Yes?”

Let’s take an example. If you are the typical twenty-year-old male, you are looking for one thing, and it’s not a deep, complicated emotional relationship.

Imagine that some day, Sony built an anatomically correct human female robot that looked as good or better than the competition, and was sophisticated enough to perform certain functions about as well as the current champ, and said nice things about you in the process. Always willing, never nagging, easily programmable, with an on/off switch.

Want a different personality? Go to CompUSA and buy a personality pack, or just tweak the personality programming. Want a different look? Buy a new “skin.”

If someone tossed billions of dollars at this project, it’s probably doable at some exorbitant price within the next ten years. Twenty five years from now, it’s likely at a somewhat reasonable price. Fifty years from now, it’s probable.

How does that change intersexual relationships, marriage, children? If, from the self-centered male dog perspective, you can build an alternative that gives you what you want, and leaves out what you don’t, what happens to those who previously had the monopoly? Do they fight it? Do they try to compete? Or do they just demand boy toys?

When it comes (and at the point it’s done very well), I think this is going to be stunningly popular, and will keep a lot of men very occupied for a long time. What does that do to a society? What does that do to you if you own a singles bar? 🙂

Horrified? Skeptical? This is tame compared to what quite serious people are being to think about and work on now.

Sounds like a William Gibson novel? Actually, it is, but Gibson copped out on the real question: Why would someone prefer a virtual wife to a real one, and what does it say about us?

Or does it say anything at all? If personal satisfaction is all that counts in the minds of many, and some robot or virtual image does a better job for you, is there a problem? Maybe human beings faced with that kind of competition would have to do better at relationships.

Don’t get mad at the messenger. Don’t even get mad at the message. Think about why the message would be fruitful.

Scoff at an Akibo being your friend. Don’t scoff at his likely descendants; they might beat out yours.

Email Ed


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