In the early days of business computing, stupid computer tricks appeared frequently in the popular press … stories like the company that sent out dunning notices for customers who owed $0 on their accounts. (Resolution: customers mailed them checks for $0 to cover what they owed.)
Somewhere in most of these stories was an obligatory explanation, that computers weren’t really the culprits. Behind any mistake a computer made was a programmer who did something wrong to make the computer do it.
Years of bug fixes, better testing regimes, and cultural acclimatization pretty much dried up the supply of stories like these. But we’re about to experience a resurgence, the result of the increasing popularity of artificial intelligence.
This week’s missive covers two artificial-intelligence-themed tales of woe.
The first happened as I was driving to a regular destination from an unfamiliar direction. My GPS brought me close. Then it announced, “Your destination is on your right.”
Which it was, only to take advantage of that intelligence I’d have had to make a 90 degree turn that would have had me driving off the shoulder of the highway and up a steep grassy slope, at which point I could hope I’d have enough momentum to knock down the chain-link fence at the top.
Dumb GPS. Uh … oops. Dumb user, as it turned out, because I’d been too lazy to look up my client’s street address. Instead I’d entered a nearby intersection and forgotten that’s what I’d done. So AI lesson #1 is that even the smartest AI will have a hard time overcoming dumb human beings.
The more infuriating tale of AI woe leads to my making an exception to a long-standing KJR practice. Usually, I avoid naming companies guilty of whatever business infraction I’m critiquing, on the grounds that naming the perpetrator lets lots of other just-as-guilty perpetrators off the hook.
But I’m making an exception because really, how many global on-line booksellers that have authors pages as part of their web presence are there?
I was about to point a new client to my Amazon author’s page, as he’d expressed interest, when I noticed an unfamiliar title on my list of books published: The Feminist Lie by Bob Lewis.
If you’ve read much of anything I’ve written over the past 21 years you’d know, this isn’t a book I would have written. Among the many reasons, I figure men shouldn’t write books criticizing feminism, any more than feminists should write books that explain male motivations, Jews should write books critiquing Catholicism and vice versa, or Latvians should publish patronizing nastiness about Albanians.
Minnesotans about Iowans? Maybe.
But I distrust pretty much any critique of any tribe that’s written by someone who isn’t a member of that tribe and who feels aggrieved by that tribe.
But some other Bob Lewis proudly wrote a book with this title, and somehow I was being given credit for it. Well, “credit” isn’t the right word, but saying I was being given debit for it might be puzzling.
In any event, I don’t think all of us named “Bob Lewis” constitute a tribe, and I want no responsibility for the actions of all the other Bob Lewises who are making their way through the world.
And yet, somehow I was listed as the author of this little screed.
Oh, well. No problem. Amazon’s Author Central lets me add books I’ve written to my author page. Surely there’s a button to delete any I don’t want on the list.
Nope. Authors can add and they can edit, but they can’t delete.
Turns out, an author’s only recourse is to send a form-based email to the folks who run Author Central to request a deletion. A couple of tries and a week-and-a-half later, the offending title was finally removed from my list.
And, I got an answer to the question of how this happened in the first place. To quote Amazon’s explanation: “Books are added by the Artificial Intelligence system Amazon has in our catalog when the system determines it matches with the author name for the first time.”
Artificial what? Oh, right.
Which leads to one more prediction. Whereas as of this writing “artificial intelligence” has some actual, useful definitions, within two years the phrase will be about as meaningful as “cloud,” because any and all business applications will be described as AI, no matter how limited the logic.
And, as in this case, no matter how lacking in intelligence.