Thursday, April 14, 2011

Automated Thinking

That old science fiction chestnut of earthlings being taken over and ruled by super-intelligent aliens is unlikely to happen, but might be bearable if it did. Conversely, being taken over by unintelligent machines is an extremely unpleasant prospect – but, alas, highly likely – because it has already happened.

My latest evidence for this is to be found in my local supermarket. The tomato is a fruit, botanically speaking. Don’t believe me? Then check it out for yourself. Yesterday, I bought some tomatoes and at the check-out proffered a voucher which would reward me with 25 pence off the price. Unfortunately, the computer wouldn’t allow it. There’s no point in arguing with the check-out person in such a situation, because they can’t exercise any discretion at all. After all, they’re not going to be able to do it for tomatoes if they can’t do it in the case of a manifest absurdity:

(The date: a few weeks ago. The place: the check-out at the same local supermarket.)

Check-out person: I can’t sell you this because it’s not on the shelves.
Me: But I got it from the shelves.
CoP: Yes, but it doesn’t exist in our system.
Me: Well, we can both see it, so does that mean we’re experiencing a group hallucination?
CoP: No, it means that it’s not registered in the system so we can’t sell it to you.
Me: Can I have it free of charge then?
CoP: No.

I didn’t see why: if it’s not in the system, then nobody would miss it.

The team from Little Britain had it about right:

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