[Our Civilization] has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life; replaced its contentment, its poetry, its soft romance-dreams and visions with the money-fever, sordid ideals, vulgar ambitions, and the sleep which does not refresh; it has invented a thousand useless luxuries, and turned them into necessities; it has created a thousand vicious appetites and satisfies none of them; it has dethroned God and set up a shekel in His place.– Mark Twain
I don’t always share Twain’s sentiment, but watching a News segment on A.I. it struck home to me about an invention that should never be created: a mind reading machine. The root of what I hated about the idea is that I never want to be in a position where a person can glean from my mind the thoughts which I would rather keep to myself. More, I think even criminals should have this right. I don’t want mind-reading to be used on average felons in place of the usual techniques of proving or disproving guilt. I think of it as a kind of “cruel and unusual punishment” for those who have done wrong (or not) by society. And of course it would be (in the court system’s hands) ideal for digging into the dirt of a person’s private life in ways in which the government has no right to know about us individually: does every man ever tried for manslaughter deserve for the knowledge to be known that though he did not commit he did commit adultery or did do some other non-criminal wrong?
The reason for this crap to be invented is supposed to be that in the medical profession it will do some perceived good. Yet I don’t want a machine to make doctor’s decisions. First of all, we don’t know that the machine is more reliable than the human doctor. Don’t machines (including computers) short circuit? Don’t machines break down? Aren’t there times when the electricity goes off? And of course even if the computer does work “better” in some way, can any machine have either a human conscience or compassion? I want my doctor to feel something about me, not just prescribe the right pills or–presumably–cut me open on the table. I literally changed human doctors once because I felt the first did not have as much compassion for me as the second when I was sick. As much as I love the ludicrous fun of watching Doc Martin about the belligerent doctor who somehow always saves the patient, perhaps the comedy and tragedy of that show is that he is not what a real doctor is supposed to be, and in real life people might periodically drive out of the town of Portwenn just to get a different doctor to look at them.
What makes it worse is that another A.I. specialist even though they insisted that A.I. was nowhere near the place where we could all live like dogs and cats with doors that automatically open and close for us and we would have minimal work or play to live (and thank God that is probably true), she had to add, “Though it would probably be fun to me to live that way.” No, it would not be “fun” to live that way. I remember reading an article years ago that said for a normal, healthy adult it is not conducive to human happiness to not do any work to do. Without having the study or the proof to show that it is so, I do not doubt it. If humans ought to exercise physically (and I admit I should do more of it), they also need to exercise mentally and interact with other real people. All of what I am saying is a big “duh” as far as I am concerned, but yes, psychiatrists have tried and probably succeeded in proving as much.
If the person does not believe me, I dare you to do an experiment. Unplug your TV and computer for a week–I admit, even I am an addict–and then spend a month doing two things outside of your normal work week: read the entire Little House on the Prairie and write down a diary of all the machines in the house, telling in the entries what you would do if that machine didn’t exist. Even get the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook for the experiment if you have to. If you are particularly bold, I have a book I occasionally–not often enough–use to make a “French Loaf” of bread: Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes, by Martin Philip. During this week, fix your own food and do not eat out. Of course, you will need the grocery store, I admit that. Yet I want you to come up at the end of that time with an essay, “Things I could do myself which I did not realize involved using the microwave or the dishwasher.” And I dare you to do your duty by Laura, who you will notice can even churn butter by herself: cut down on the number of appliances in your house, so that more of the work in your home without any outside assistance.