Diary of a retired parson
Jonathan Copus battles with his spall chucker
A priest, a chapel minister and a rabbit walk into a bar. The barman asks the rabbit: ‘What’ll you have?’
‘I don’t know,’ replies the rabbit; ‘I’m only here because of autocorrect.’
Technology can be over-helpful in real life, too. The messaging app on my phone often renames my daughter Julia as ‘Julian’. Conversely, Parish Treasurer Julian was once startled to receive an affectionate email from me ending: ‘Love you, darling xxxxx.’
Disconcertingly, Mr Google regularly reminds me where I’ve been over the last month. At my age, it would be more helpful if he reminded me why I’d just come upstairs.
Yes, the megabrains in our pockets often behave in ways which make us want to fry their little silicon chips. And sometimes, they need a little intervention from us, their fleshy friends.
Stanislav Petrov became a hero not only of the Soviet Union but of the world when in 1983 he disobeyed orders and refused to punch the Obliterate America button in response to reports from a faulty computer program that a hostile nuclear missile was heading his way.
The global financial crisis of 2008 was exacerbated by badly-written algorithms reacting automatically to a rapidly-changing stock market. For once, overpaid yuppies in red braces shouting ‘Sell!’ (or not) might have saved the day.
NASA, for all its yobibytes of storage and its ultrafast calculating power, relied for the first Apollo missions on human super-computers in Mission Control, ready to check that the lunar module really should be travelling at 25,000 mph, and it wasn’t an attempt by some playful digital device to see what happens if you throw three humans in a tin can hard against a rock.
Scientist and author Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics rules: ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’ But there’s no law against humans awarding robots too much power. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic 2001: a Space Odyssey, trusting the seductively Machiavellian computer HAL with the last word has fatal consequences (sorry about the spoiler).
And if you want to avoid fatal consequences in your relationships as we all get sucked into the infinite and shrunken world of videoconferencing, make sure you’re muted before you mutter ‘What an idiot’ about your boss or your best friend.
Now why did I just come upstairs?