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Convenient or creepy?
Sept. 22, 2017
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by Ivan Raconteur

With each passing year, it seems there are fewer occasions when a person is called upon to think for himself.

Somewhere, it seems, we have crossed a line from using technology to make our lives easier, to using it to do our thinking for us.

To be fair, there are some people who would be better off if they left their thinking up to their computer or other device, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.

The adjustment to technology related to communication hasn’t always been a smooth path for me.

I think I have reached a sort of peaceful coexistence with spell-checking software. There are times when it is nice to have this as a backup.

There are other occasions, however, when it drives me crazy.

For example, I have a reasonably large vocabulary. As a result, I often have to fight with software that refuses to accept even common words that it doesn’t recognize.

At those times, the software is not a benefit, but a curse.

Autocorrect is even worse, because if the software doesn’t like a word, it changes it, often with humorous or infuriating results.

I know what words I want to use, and it really bugs me when software overrides my intentions.

I often turn off autocorrect when I can, but we don’t always have this option.

One recent development I have noticed occurs when I get an email message on my phone.

Google Smart Reply provides a list of handy responses from which I can choose, eliminating the need to type or even think about a response.

Smart Response does this by using artificial intelligence to scan and evaluate the text, compose possible replies

For instance, this morning I received some designs from a friend.

At the bottom of my screen, a trio of possible one-click responses occurred, including “Awesome, thanks!” “Thanks!” and “These are great!”

The scary part, as far as I’m concerned, is that the potential responses that are presented are so appropriate.

I hate to admit it, but I have even used these auto replies in the past. How pathetic is that? I’m a professional writer, and yet I have let my phone compose responses for me.

Another recent message was a request for some thing the chief wanted me to do.

The possible responses served up by my phone were “Will do, thanks!” “Will do!” and “OK, thanks for the reminder.”

It frightens me that any of these responses would have been appropriate in the circumstances. I may have even used one of them.

To make matters worse, it may be my imagination, but I have begun to suspect the software is “learning” from me over time, and actually starting to use language that I have used.

There’s no doubt technology like this adds convenience to our daily tasks.

I can’t help thinking, however, that if the current trends continue, I could become obsolete.

There will be no need to keep me around, because my phone, tablet, and laptop will all be able to compose messages and answer questions as well as I can, and they don’t require an income to keep them supplied in refreshing adult beverage.

At this rate, I will soon be put out to pasture, or relegated to a home for bewildered writers, and electronic devices will be doing my job.

If they can figure out a way to get computers to jump out of bed to deal with a press call on a cold winter’s night, or convert disorder to some sort of logical order, my fate will be sealed.


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