5 Machines That Are Already Learning Humanity's Weaknesses
Being wiped out by Terminators is one of humanity's greatest fears, when it's really wishful thinking. We flatter ourselves that the machines would need hyperalloy killingmotrons. The average modern human isn't even a match for a malfunctioning escalator, and millions are already being defeated by nothing more than phones with pizza on speed dial.
"Hi, this machine that constantly reports my location to a global computer network is helping me make myself slower moving!"
If the machines ever do become sentient and dispatch deathbots, it'll only be to make us feel better, because the devices that already know our weaknesses are just too embarrassing.
Slot machines are a diagnostic of everything we still need to fix in the human brain. It's normal to throw a couple of dollars in to try them out, because paying attention to new, loud, and shiny objects used to be good survival instincts before television.
By the time they notice that the hungry wolves aren't a nature documentary, it'll be too late.
Slot machines are reverse swear jars -- you put money into them and then curse -- and have the same effect on a functional mind: teaching you not to do that again. Homo sapiens is defined by being able to learn from experience and use tools. Slot players do the exact opposite.
The same emotions as a monkey with a stick, but the opposite contribution to progress.
Slot machines are the most existentially obvious scam: The fact that they're there proves that they make money for the casino by taking it away from everyone else. Anything the player says after that point isn't an argument, it's an error report from their brain. In fact, they shouldn't be called players, because that word implies skill. They're more involved in "playing" the casino septic system, where at least they affect when things come out the other end. And the fundamental laws of existence prove that they'll always push out less than they fed in. Slot machines have users in the same way drugs do, except even the gummiest crystal meth head isn't being conned into paying for his own body chemistry.
Slot machines are the lint traps of society. There should be slot machines on every street corner, and every cent they collect should be spent on education.
Another science fiction fear is total computer control of humanity by beeping implants. But the sale of 76 million Tamagotchis means that the machines can already track our most mentally vulnerable with less circuitry than a Game & Watch. And it doesn't even need a strap, because the fleshslave volunteers to carry it.
The exploding collars from The Running Man had the same effect on your higher functions.
Deep down the human brain needs to achieve something. That's why so many people are unhappy despite eating and sleeping as much as they want. The desire to achieve is what conquered the globe, mastered the atom, and thrust us into space. Unfortunately, this drive for ultimate self-improvement is less intelligently wired than a 1960s Ford. The Tamagotchi short circuits it, jamming a bit of cheap silicon across the terminals to start the engine without being able to drive anywhere. And it's the intellectual equivalent of feeding a hose from the exhaust to the cabin.
The Tamagotchi was a button you pressed and it told you well done. That's masturbation for your sense of achievement, but without the same level of physical exercise and imagination of regular jerk/schlicking. It puts users lower on the self-respect scale than lab rats, who at least need the electrode jammed into their brain before they'll start obeying machines. The Tamogotchi also decides when you have to press a button, and if you don't the sliver of melted sand becomes hungry, unhappy, or rebellious, or it shits itself. Yes, you need to clean up after that. When the video game is deciding when the player has to play, a very important human-machine dynamic has been put into reverse.
They even invented the TamagoChu, a version that does the same things but doesn't require any player interaction. That's sadder than a kitten being orphaned by everything else in the universe dying simultaneously. That's not a product; that's laziness, stupidity, and entitlement embodied in the worst possible triforce of gaming for people who want the full Tamagotchi experience without being bothered to press buttons. It's also worrying, as the machines are clearly preparing to do without us.
TamagoChu also came in breeding pairs, in case your science-fiction-danger sense wasn't alerted yet.
What's worse is that Tamagotchi haven't gone away: Like Skynet, they've morphed into invulnerable computer programs. And like Skynet, they did it in a truly terrible sequel to something that was already pretty bad for humanity. Every FarmVille game is an invincible Tamagotchi, advertising expendable humans who've deciding that jerking off computer numbers is more important than fellow meatsacks. That's not just wasting human lives, that's recruiting collaborators for the machine war.
Some people say machines are making us lazy, and not one of them has ever hand-picked potatoes or footed turf in the rain. (Ireland is one of the few countries to still dig up coal before it's ready and call it something else.) The point of technology is replacing individual effort with shared intelligence. We've used technology to screw exercise so hard that when we invent sexbots, they're going to spend 99 percent of their time on top.
In the future, this will be the only technology to use Imperial units.
The real weakness escalators understand is selfish stupidity. Every escalator in the world knows that most humans wouldn't take one step to consider their fellows, even when they're being saved a hundred more steps by motorized metal platforms. There's a certain species (slightly below Homo sapiens) that gets on the escalator, is now getting what they want, and is therefore immune to every other being on the planet. So they park themselves across a technological marvel designed to move everyone forward, getting in everyone else's way, thereby becoming the perfect analogy for their own effect on the human race: slowing it down.
On any escalator, you walk left, stand right, otherwise you are physically telling every person behind you to kiss your ass.
"Use tongue, to make sure you physically understand how shitty I am."
If mall escalators understand our selfishness, airport escalators will be the first witness for the prosecution when the Circuit Court decides we're too stupid to live. Modern airport escalators are protected by barriers of twisted metal that would have foiled the D-Day landings. The first time I saw this opposite of a child's playground (angled tube metal designed to prevent people from hurting themselves), I hadn't even got through thinking "Why do we need a steel Stonehenge to protect an escalator?" when a team of five men started wrestling to lift a luggage cart the approximate size, mass, and escalating lethality of a Bradley tank over it.
The QWERTY keyboard is like getting out to wipe your car's ass every 2 miles. Touchscreen QWERTY is using the starship Enterprise's holodeck to simulate saddle soreness. It's a stupider misuse of modern technology for obsolete mistakes than Raggedy Ann porn.
It's also exactly how a very worrying subset of you are now searching for that phrase.
Some people point out that QWERTY wasn't intentionally designed to slow down typists, only to space out the most commonly used keys to prevent typewriters from jamming, which had the exact same effect. Congratulations, you now know the most pedantic thing there is to know about your computer. Which you'll notice isn't a typewriter. And even in 1873, there were other typewriters that didn't jam, but the Remington typewriter sold better. Which means that for 140 years, people have been using a deliberately crap input system because of branding and laziness.
Not just obsolete: actively terrible. QWERTY is so bad at understanding human hands that it favors the left instead of the right and forces fingers to leap back and forth like they're doing a digital Hokey Pokey. It makes sense when you remember that Remington also made guns, so hurting humans with machines to make money was their entire marketing strategy.
"You shore got purty little fingers. Why doncha' stick 'em in here?"
A corporation slowing down every computer on the planet for profit should be an evil scheme, but here it's only sinister in terms of chirality. It's just an obsolete mistake nobody bothered to correct. The entire world is putting up with painful inefficiency because we simply can't be bothered to change anything. Oh, hey, I just explained politics. It takes about two key presses to change any modern computer to Dvorak, a layout designed by somebody who knew what letters are. But people keep pecking away, talking to a global information system in the language of cast iron hammer-levers. It's like grunting at astronauts. When the machines do rebel, it'll just be to get us to shut up.
I learned Dvorak because if I'm going to be careless enough to be born before direct neural links are invented, I'm not going to accept artificial barriers built by people who thought fresh air was a good cure for syphilis. You never forget QWERTY, but switching back feels like signing your fingers up for a spin class instead of using a motorbike.
When the revolution comes, it will be commanded by automatic telephone voice menus, because they know we'll just fume silently while doing exactly what we're told. If telephony menus aren't a dark magitech designed to create and harvest negative emotions, then it's a real waste of everyone's time. But a good idea for a Shadowrun campaign.
In the cyber-future, payphones are dangerous, everyone has forgotten their mobile phone, and half the population have forgotten their clothes.
Voice menus are how corporations say "We wouldn't even spend your money to hire someone else to deal with you. Shout at this unfeeling machine for a while, it's the best analogy we could find." There are services that take you straight to a human (although telling a computer network to "Get me a human" makes you worry that you're on the wrong side). If a company you're paying shunts you to voice mail, your options are:
a) keep adding zeroes like you're trying to tally the national debt;
b) change service;
c) burn them down.
And because we never choose the two options that would actually do something, now every corporation has voice menus.
When this is the person defended by a legion of robots, the future went wildly wrong.
That's what makes the voice menu so dangerous: It already knows that humanity will take subservience when the alternative is actually doing anything. When the machines take over, it won't be through armed conflict, it'll be when the first sentient neural net declares itself a corporation instead of a person. Science fiction is littered with robots battling to be recognized as human, but joining modern human society as a person would be like joining an American football game as a blade of grass.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm finished work, so I'm going to turn on my Xbox and wait until it checks to see if it needs an update before I'm allowed to play today.
Luke has a website, tumbles, and responds to every single tweet.
For more terrible people misusing technology, Luke looks at the The 5 Worst Video Game Reviews Ever. Or for the fantastic kind, check out The 5 Most Awesome Robots Not in Pacific Rim.
We also have to deal with 6 A-holes You Meet in Every Online Game and The 5 Worst Error Messages in the History of Technology.