New Overlords: Computers Have Taken Human Element Out of Most Realms, But Not Politics


pdDoes and Don’ts

By Paul J. Doe, Former Editor, Cumberland News

A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper

Stephen Hawking is worried about artificial intelligence (AI). Since he is generally acknowledged as the smartest man in the world, it seems to me that this is probably a good time for the rest of us to give it some thought.
A few years ago they had that contest on Jeopardy where the all-time top contestants competed against Watson, the IBM computer. Watson, of course, won handily.
The name Watson was chosen for the famous Alexander Graham Bell quote, “Watson, come here” that Bell used to summon his assistant, Watson, from another room in the first demonstration of his new invention, the telephone.
Well, Watson is not only in the room these days; he’s the elephant in the room.
In the trailers for the upcoming biopic of Apple computer genius, Steven Jobs, they show the investors meeting where Jobs unveils his new computer with the pronouncement that the two most significant events of the 20th century were the Allies winning World War II and the introduction of the personal computer.
Pretty hard to argue with that.
Men have walked on the moon, sent pictures back from Mars and the farthest reaches of the galaxy and made significant advances in science, medicine, and communications.
Every single thing was expedited through the use of AI. It’s the reason everything is moving so rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that most of us can hardly keep up.
There’s an old joke about the guy who was conceived through artificial insemination who, each Father’s Day, sends a card to a syringe at the Mayo Clinic.
It may be just a matter of a very short time before the Nobel Prize for (name a science) will be awarded to a computer. Seriously, we really seem to have come that far. And, apparently we have only scratched the surface of what is possible with AI.
I grew up in Detroit. When I graduated high school in 1961, I was one of the few who didn’t go straight into an auto factory. They were good paying, guaranteed jobs for life.
You had the same thing right here in Cumberland County with the glass industry. Good paying, guaranteed jobs for life.
You can blame a lot of things for the changes that have occurred—unions, mismanagement, global competition, etc.
But the bottom line is that most factory jobs these days are done by computers.
One of the last things my Dad did before he died was tour the Ford River Rouge manufacturing plant (he’d worked at Chrysler all his life) where they still pour steel, rubber and plastic in one end of the assembly line and a car pops out on the other end.
Dad was amazed by the fact that there were so very few actual live people involved in the process. But he acknowledged that they “did make a good car.”
I’m just wondering, though, if we are missing an opportunity. Seems to me we aren’t using AI for all the best reasons.
The number one priority should be the one thing that screws up all the rest—elected and appointed government officials.
We started out wanting it to be of, for, and by the people. What we seem to have now is a government that has evolved into its own entity—too big to operate efficiently and too big to fail.
Seems to me that maybe we should stop electing officials and start building them from the ground up.
Imagine a world where computers make decisions regarding health services, taxes, immigration, retirement benefits, and laws without regard to getting re-elected.
Or without regard (in local instances) to putting cousin Jim’s little son on the city payroll to keep peace in the family.
I think computers would quickly realize that we have more than enough laws (the constitution only recognized three crimes, incidentally—treason, piracy and counterfeiting) and there were only 10 on that tablet Moses brought down from the mountain.
Personally, I wouldn’t be the least bit worried about AI if it weren’t for the fact that people are going to be involved at some level of programming.
Hawking’s theory (google it by typing in “Hawking + AI”) suggests that we may already be past the tipping point—computers smart enough to improve themselves.
If that’s so, then we would be wise to remember Final Jeopardy.
In the Watson versus humans contest, Watson could not be beaten in the final question so Ken Jennings (the winningest contestant ever) simply wrote: “All hail our new overlords.”
Paul Doe can be reached via e-mail at

SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source based in Millville, New Jersey that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.