Friday, November 15 2019

computers, evil AI, bad CGI, and KidsCode

1170 words

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! This morning, my text editor is looking crisp and lovely. It’s good to be back on a regular ol’ HDMI cable. For those who might not remember, for the last week or so, I broke my computer while updating the BIOS and suddenly it was no longer able to boot with HDMI, and as a temporary workaround I’ve been using a HDMI to VGA dongle. If you can’t picture what that plug looks like in your head, it’s that wide ugly one with the little screws on either side. And in addition to looking gross and cluttering up the desk, we’ve been without audio and limping by with a fuzzy resolution. Last night, Marissa groaned while trying to get audio to play out of a two foot AUX cord and our tiny speaker. She wanted to watch Harry Potter while painting frames.

For a week of “everything’s on fire”, it felt good to finally get a win and start fighting back. And getting the dining room computer working is important, since that’s where every day begins (it’s where I write these entries). Well, I use the term ‘working’ loosely. HDMI and audio work, but while kicking the tires last night I discovered that Steam remote play no longer works. When I try to connect from the TV, I get all the audio and a solid black screen. That’s the way these things are - computers are like whack-a-mole. Once you find an arrangement that fixes something, another problem arises. It’s like every computer in your house has to have a minimum entropy, or bad mojo, if you will. And fixing the resolution last night squeezed that bad mojo somewhere else - thankfully somewhere less critical. All that means for me is come Sunday, I’ll have to watch the Bears game on our TV with a half closed laptop within cable range.

Incidentally, that’s why I’m not too worried about computers gaining too much intelligence and enslaving us. We all know that tech companies have a long way to go before they make anything that good. My Samsung Smart TV still gets amnesia whenever we turn it out. Marissa’s phone still crashes whenever she gets a voicemail. My phone runs out of disk space whenever I get a software update (no doubt because all the old updates are taking up the space). My macbook at work has been plugged into the same monitor for almost four years, and it forgets everything about it once a week. Oh, and just to bring it home, anything and everything about Microsoft.

If you ask me, a more likely scenario is that the machines have already taken over, and we’re living in the Matrix. And in order for that to work, all of our tech would have to mysteriously break and stagnate for as long as possible under the guise of “innovation” and “progress”. What I fear more than our tech getting too good is that our tech hasn’t actually changed - only the way we spin it and sell it to people.

Machine learning is not AI. Sticking a wireless card in a toaster or a fridge does not make it smarter, it’s just yet another thing that breaks when your Internet goes down. And streaming services are really just cable with extra steps.

If you couldn’t tell, Marissa and I are in the throws of a Matrix trilogy marathon. Last night we just finished the second installment. Those movies are better than I remember. When I was younger, I watched it mostly for the fight scenes - I think I even used to just fast forward through the dialog. But it holds up. The writing can be a little wordy at times, but it’s a fascinating movie if you pay attention.

And ironically, watching the movie in 2019, it’s some of the fighting scenes that are laughable. Whenever neo does something unnatural, like float in the air, you can see the texture of his skin and hair smoothen out while they swap in the CGI version of him right in front of you. “It’s like watching an old screensaver kick on in the middle of the movie,” we heckled.

And yes, in this entry I’m aware of the irony that I make the argument that tech might not be getting any better, then go on to mock how bad CGI in movies used to look. CGI has gotten a lot better. Perhaps CGI will get so good that it will enslave humanity.

Yesterday was a pretty wonderful day. I hit the ticket duty backlog hard, but I took a midday break to grab lunch with Rob. We ordered a pair of Zombie Dust beers, and I got a little basket of hot wings. Hot wings and beer are such a classic combination, and I’d challenge you to scour the culinary universe for a better pairing.

After work, I hung around the house with Marissa until kids code started. On Thursday, we joke that I get the “Kids Code scaries”. Since I have to leave the house around 5:30, that leaves me with a little less than a half hour, and since I don’t know what to do with myself I just pace around the house in anticipation. It has less to do with the event itself, and more to do with the fact that I just have to go somewhere and be social.

Kids Code was wonderful. The closest thing I had that resembled a lesson plan was “make a game that involves a Turkey”. Some kids actually took me up on the challenge. One kid made a turkey edition of “duck hunt”, but most kids just wisely scribbled a small turkey in the corner of their game so they’d qualify.

The linux laptops were pretty popular yesterday. One regular club member wanted to install something on the Windows laptops we have, and was disappointed that we didn’t have the admin password for the library computers (trust me, I don’t want the admin password either - with great power comes great responsibility, right?). “We can’t install it on there, but want one of the linux laptops? We have the root password, and you can pretty much do whatever you want.”

Marshall hadn’t heard of linux, but he was intrigued. As he clicked around, he asked me a few more questions. “How much does it cost? How do you get it on a laptop?” As I explained to him that it’s well-document, universally accepted as the standard in most engineering disciplines, and completely free-as-in-beer, his eyes widened with wonder. He made the same kind of face that neo did when Morpheus said welcome to the REAL world.

That’s my time, everyone. Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful Friday.