Computers Who Think Too Much

We have a new computer. And it’s great. Except for one thing. It keeps trying to think for us.

Now this might be okay if the computer was good at thinking. But it’s not. It’s good at following commands. It’s exceptional at graphic displays. And it sure is the fastest thing on silicon chips. But thinking is something it can’t quite do. That doesn’t stop it from trying.

Open a window and drag the box over to the edge of the screen to get it out of the way? The computer decides that we want the window to fill the screen and eagerly resizes it for us, deaf to our annoyed remarks. Begin to type a web address, email address, or search term? The computer leaps to our assistance and begins a guessing game about what we are trying to do. And computers are bad at guessing games. They take everything much too literally.

And don’t even get us started about how the computer liked to decide which programs should be updated and how often. Every time we started the computer it would oh-so-helpfully rush out into the Internet and begin scanning for any and all updates to EVERY program we had. That was its default setting, for heaven’s sake! Most programs are invasive enough. We didn’t need the machine itself encouraging them! (THAT setting was changed pronto!)

The most annoying form of computer-think occurs when we are writing. Writing fiction involves creative expression, and creative expression does not follow strict grammar rules. Dialogue uses sentence fragments and slang. Ever try to explain slang to a computer? Oh, you can tell it to add the word it is objecting to to the dictionary but it never learns how to correctly use the word. And scifi-fantasy terms? Forget it! The computer will happily add the invented vocabulary necessary to describe make-believe realms but it stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the new words as nouns, verbs, or any other part of speech. But that doesn’t stop it from trying to decide how you should use the word:

Us: Jinn is the name of a character in our book.

Computer: Jinn are supernatural creatures from Arabic folklore.

Us: Yes, but we are using the term as a proper noun. A name.

Computer: The word jinn is a common noun. Jinn are supernatural creatures from Arabic folklore.

Us. Yes, but in this case Jinn is a woman’s name. Please stop trying to correct the verb usage from singular to pluaral.

Computer. Jinn are supernatural creatures from Arabic folklore. Plural. (We’re pretty sure we heard it give us that raspberry at this point.)

Yes, yes we have turned off the grammar-check function. It was wrong as often as it was correct anyway, which leads us to our final point. Computers are great tools, but we find it annoying that they are trying to second-guess what we want, make decisions for us, and generally give us assistance that is incorrect often enough to make us mistrust any input from the machine. And it is more than a little scary when we observe how many people are letting their computers do their thinking for them.

About jmdattilo

J.M. Dattilo is our pen name. We are the authors of the Time's Edge sci-fi/fantasy series.

Posted on January 15, 2012, in Computers, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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