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From: Tom Sweetnam (
Date: Fri May 12 2000 - 09:28:10 PDT

When does machine-made intelligence cross the line from "artificial" to
something else entirely? I remember reading last year about a new and
seemingly off-the-wall theory from MIT about computers now being so
sophisticated in engineered "intuition", that some will actually respond to
the mood or frame of mind of their users. Even though I'm from California, I
won't chalk up such phenomena to "karma', I'll assume instead that if such a
thing is valid, it probably has to do with electromagnetic fields. All of
which begs the question: do some machines and processes have malleable
personalties, programmable by mood rather than binary feedbag?

I like to tinker with mechanical things, and I've restored some neat old
cars in my day, and built some pretty passable telescopes too, yet while in
the process of busting my knuckles on various and sundry nuts and bolts, I'd
curse the object of my task with every manner of expletive. Reason would
settle in eventually, and I'd feel silly for having voiced my angst against
an inanimate object. Yet I began to realize at some point, that when I
cursed an inanimate object for some self-induced transgression, it wasn't
the object itself I'd affront, rather it was the mind of the person who
designed it that I'd pox. And many times I'd have good reason, because I
believe that malevolence as a dynamic of human personality, is an
inescapable ingredient of our design personalities too, and is therefore
extant in much of what we produce, whether it be a 1911 Stanley Steamer or a
Cray supercomputer, even if we as individuals, or an entire quality control
section, are unaware of its presence.

Now I'm not suggesting that after every program is written and new CPU
developed, that we take them down to St. Anthony's Cathedral with the new
baby and have them baptized and doused with holy water. But I do believe the
MIT theory. I've believed it for many years without even knowing about it.
My own less sophisticated theory states that malevolence is a very real
aspect of engineering design, even if we aren't cognizant of its presence,
and I also believe that machines and processes can let their malevolence be
known to those who are sensitive to these dynamics. It's there, I know it
is. So I don't curse my machines anymore. And when I get a new software
program, I put it up there on the shelf with my plants, and I talk to it,
and I play soft music for it at night, and when I leave my abode, I tell it
I won't be gone for long. And if you software engineers were half as smart
as you think you are, you'd be doing the same thing every single day while
you're hatching all these belligerent beasties -these binary Bart Simpsons.

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