Opinions — 08 November 2014

Just saw a cute post by my colleague, Jon Arnold, about Woody Allen’s humorous perspective of automated devices that behaved like people. You can see it at:


It reminded me of the first computer joke I had ever heard when I was being trained by the Rand Corporation at MIT for my first computer job on the SAGE Air Defense System.

The story goes like this!

The world’s greatest computer scientists had built a new computer that had infinite storage and could do everything a human could do with that information and could also control its own functionally, like a person. The scientists loaded all the information that existed in the world on to the computer and decided to power it up and test it by asking it a question and seeing how the new computer coudl provide an answer.

So, the first question they typed (they didn’t have speech recognition yet!) into the computer was, “Is there a God?”

After a few seconds of computing, the response on the computer screen popped up. It said, “Now there is!”

This response scared the scientists, because they feared they had a created an uncontrollable new force. So, they quickly decided they better shut the computer off before it caused any problems to them. However, before they could shut the power switch off, a bolt of lighting came from the computer and fused the electrical connections shut. So, the scientists could no longer turn it off!
Ha ha!

This anecdotal story simply suggests that automating any real-world function can end up in unexpected and uncontrollable actions generated by a computer software error. In today’s world of malware and hacking, it is even worse, because it is no longer about “accidental” errors, but deliberate acts by evildoers taking control of software that can affect day-to-day activities.

Not really funny any more!

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