(Photo: “Ex Machina,” 2014)
Every day, I’m bombarded in the communications business about new ways I can use artificial intelligence to make my job easier. However, about the only artificial intelligence I truly enjoy is the AI that helps filter the emails about AI into my spam folder.
I’m just not interested.
I know there are a lot of folks sounding the alarm about how AI has the potential to steal all our jobs, take over the world and eventually wipe all of us humans off the face of the Earth. But I’m here to be the voice of reason and assure you … yes, it’s absolutely true.
However, I think it’s a little like climate change in that it’s probably too late to stop it. In fact, the only thing that might eventually reverse climate change is a bunch of AI robots rounding up the humans who are content with making the planet unlivable.
I’m simply not going to turn over my writing efforts — whether it’s for my job or for fun — over to the robots. I’m working on a novel right now — and, yes, I’m always working on the next novel — but I’m doing it because I’ve got something to say, not because I just have a pressing need for 300 pages of words. And the robots simply don’t know what I’ve got to say.
(Well, except for Alexa. She knows everything. I can’t sneeze without her saying “bless you” and ordering a box of Kleenex.)
I did recently consider using AI to do some voiceovers for work videos. I tested a few voices — American male, British female, even Australian, but, crikey, they just don’t sound real enough to me and that’s fair dinkum.
So, I went out and recruited a fella from back home who has the closest thing to a legendary voice this side of James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman. I bought him lunch, and he recorded his bit for free. Cheaper than AI, and better than AI.
As we had lunch, we talked about how we’re becoming dumber as a species. We can’t find our way anywhere these days without a GPS. Instead of searching our memory of facts and history, we ask Alexa about it. We don’t even know anyone else’s phone numbers. I remember the landline number to my home growing up in Oglethorpe, Georgia, 472-8310. I also remember the phone number to Barker’s Market, a seafood joint in nearby Montezuma because their number was 472-8130, and we often got phone calls to our house that went like this:
“Y’all got any mullet?!”
After a while, my dad got tired of the calls and they went more like this:
“Y’all got any mullet?!”
“Sure, c’mon over.”
Folks are definitely getting dumber. There are folks who think Jewish space lasers start wildfires, that JFK is returning, the earth is flat, the moon landing was fake, and that Donald Trump weighs 215 pounds. When a fella named Peter McIndoe started a movement called Birds Aren’t Real, claiming that the CIA got angry with birds for pooping on their windshields and got rid of them and replaced them with surveillance drones, I had to double-check to make sure it was satire. (Spoiler alert: It is.) But I bet there are thousands of people who believe it. We’re not a smart bunch, collectively.
I have no doubt that AI has the ability to make our lives better and maybe even help counteract some human stupidity. But if the greediness of America’s wealthy class and corporations has shown us anything over recent years, it’s that they’ll leverage AI in ways to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It’ll work like trickle-down economics, where the only thing that actually trickles down is the suffering.
A few weeks ago, I re-watched the movie “Ex Machina.” It was a decent movie in 2014, but it seemed a little far-fetched. Now, I realize it’s a brilliant movie way ahead of its time. It poses numerous thought-provoking questions on the AI front — questions that are relevant today. If you are the least bit interested in AI, you should find it fascinating. And Oscar Isaac brilliantly portrays an Elon Musk-ish character … if Elon was, you know, human and lifelike.
I don’t know where we are in the artificial intelligence journey — somewhere between Rosie the Maid from “The Jetsons” and Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” I suspect. By the time robots are whipping out great novels, I’ll be long since gone. I’m already as rusty as R2D2 and fall apart more than C3PO. And I’m the wrong side of 50.
If I do somehow make it to the golden age of AI writers and artists, then I’ll just retire and watch the robot birds in my backyard.
As they also watch me, of course.
P.S. — I tested the most popular AI writing platform, and this is 100 percent true. I prompted it with, “Tell me about Chris Johnson, who used to write a newspaper column for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.” Here’s its response:
Chris Johnson was a well-known journalist who wrote newspaper columns for the Ledger-Enquirer, a daily newspaper based in Columbus, Georgia. Johnson’s column, titled “On the Scene,” focused on local events, people, and issues in the Columbus area.
Johnson was born in Columbus in 1957 and attended Columbus State University. He began his journalism career as a staff writer for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in 1983 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a features editor and then a columnist.
Johnson’s writing was known for its wit, humor, and keen observation of the world around him. He was a beloved figure in the Columbus community and was often stopped on the street by readers who wanted to chat with him about his latest column.
Sadly, Chris Johnson passed away in 2015 at the age of 58. His death was mourned by many in the Columbus community and beyond, and his writing continues to be remembered and celebrated.
I’m pretty sure some of the details are slightly inaccurate, most notably that it thinks I was beloved.