Friday, February 21, 2014

Why we are not getting killed by SkyNet any time soon

Computers are dumb.

For the benefit of non-German readers, this is a screenshot of the German Yahoo News site. The second paragraph starts with the phrase "the process initiated by her predecessor...", with the German word "der" being the direct counterpart of English "the" (for male nouns, that is, but let's not make this complicated).

Behind the German "the", some script has automatically inserted a share price at the Chinese stock market and a link to more stock market information. Why? The prominent box on the left provides the answer. It is not related to the article, which is not about stock markets at all but about the ministry of defense, nor is it some paid advertisement. Instead, the box has been added by the very same script, and it shows the recent development of share prices for a company called DER.

DER; "der Prozess". Get it?

It would be funny if it weren't so sad. (And annoying; let's not forget how annoying it is to have some stupid script clutter every text that contains the male definite article with irrelevant graphs and links).

And this is one of many reasons* why I am not afraid of a so-called technological singularity turning into Terminator: Rise of the Machines. Computers are idiots. Yes, they can do amazing things, but they are "oh look, she is trying feed herself with a spoon now, and most of it ends up in her lap, isn't that cute" amazing things, not "she is the greatest physicist of her generation" amazing things.

Of course, the computer is not really at fault, it is only a tool. Really one has to wonder about whoever wrote this script and thought it would be a great idea.

*) The other reasons are mostly variants on the observation that the singularity itself is a ridiculous idea.

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