[Not chronologically, of course, but it’ll make the postings easier to find (yeah I know tags blah blah, one of these days I’ll have a minion to do that stuff for me). Finally over the head cold/allergy attach and brain functioning again.]
I loved elective day. Every Friday was like a mini-holiday when Mr. Johns your history teacher turned into a martial arts master, Mrs. Mays the math teacher became coach of the Robotics Team, and Mr. Larson stopped trying to convince me of the worthiness of Wordsworth and we got to read science fiction. We were in the middle of a module on “dystopias” and our homework this last week had been watching Terminator 2 (homework weren’t usually this easy but we’d had a bunch of papers due in other classes so he cut us some slack this week).
“In the movie’s universe, technology is…” Mr. Larson said, writing it on the board and looking at us. There were only three of us today; the other three kids were off presenting at a science fair.
Alice raised her hand. “Evil.”
“Our abilities to create technology are outstripping our abilities to control it.”
“But you used the word evil. Is the inability to control our creations a technical problem or a moral problem?” Mr. Larson asked.
“It’s a moral problem when you abdicate responsibility, like Miles Dyson did until it was too late. He just wanted to ‘do the science’ without thinking about consequences. Next thing you know, evil robot overlords.”
I raised my hand. “I don’t believe in the ‘evil robot overlords’ thing. A gun isn’t evil, it’s the person who’s pointing it and shooting it. A robot can’t be ‘evil’ any more than…you know, you could reprogram those mecha-soldiers to build cars instead of zapping people.” Christopher laughed, and, reassured, I went on. “I think it’s too…anthropomorphic. If you give people tremendous abilities and tremendous power, yeah, there’s something in people that can make them go bad and abuse it. But a machine doesn’t have all our weird chemical problems and that old lizard brain as its basis, that primal need for power or whatever – why would a ‘thinking machine’ act like a person and want to rule the world?”
“Alice, any rebuttal?”
She frowned. “But if you gave it pure reason and autonomy, and it reasoned that the best thing for the people and the planet was to kill like 2/3rds of the people, there wouldn’t be the rest of that human brain thing, compassion and respect for life, that would stop it.”
“That probably would be the best thing,” Christopher murmured.
“’All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,’” Mr. Larson wrote on the board. “Do you remember that poem? That’s the utopian version of the outcome. ‘Free of our labors and joined back to nature.’ Isn’t that the potential upside?”
“Then you’ve got Wall-E World,” Alice said, and we all laughed, thinking of the soda-sucking fatties who never had to leave their floating chairs.
“Christopher, you’re our roboticist in residence, what do you think?”
He took a breath and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m with Caroline. A tool’s only as evil as you make it. A gun can kill your family or feed your family, depending on what you want to do with it.” Alice wrinkled her nose, appalled at the example; Christopher, pleased, went on. “I guess I’d paraphrase Jefferson, and say ‘people pretty much get the technology they deserve.’”
“That was probably Joseph de Maistre who said ‘people usually get the government they deserve,’ but Jefferson gets the credit,” Mr. Larson added. (Did I mention I loved my new school?)
When I got home that afternoon, I woke up my machine and checked my mail – a no-no during the school day; we even had a cell signal blocker in the building that only went off between classes and at lunch. I was surprised to see a mail titled “My Little Project.”
Hi doll, hope this is you – I’m betting you’re a gmail kind of girl, and not prone to silly names, and therefore am totally betting that I’m right. If this isn’t you, sorry whoever you are and I won’t say more! Anyway here’s the link.
I had to laugh. It was dismaying to be so predictable – he’d taken my first initial and last name, and sure enough, that was my gmail account name. Whereas Christopher’s account was perplexingly named “elizasheirs.” Who was Eliza Sheirs?
I clicked on the link. A clean page opened, an Aubrey Beardsley-style arch drew itself in Flash, along with some text in Elvish. Then underneath it, “Speak, Friend, and Enter” faded in, in English. I laughed – nerd-to-nerd communication. I couldn’t remember the scene from “Lord of the Rings” so I Googled it. “Mellon,” I typed, and the page faded out to a simple blinking cursor.
“Hello,” I typed.
GREETINGS, SON OF LIBERTY.
“I’m a girl.”
GREETINGS, DAUGHTER OF LIBERTY.
GOD BLESS AMERICA.
“Yes, indeed. What’s your name?”
I AM RUSHBOT.
I laughed. Had Christopher done what I thought he had? “Ditto, Rushbot.”
“How do you feel about the upcoming election?”
I AM ANGRY. AMERICA IS ANGRY. ALL GOOD PATRIOTS ARE ANGRY.
“Barack Obama is a great President,” I baited him.
HE IS A MUSLIM SOCIALIST.
“In my experience, most socialists aren’t very religious.”
RELIGION IS THE PILLAR OF SOCIETY. RELIGION, AND JOE THE PLUMBER.
“You’re pulling my leg.”
I KID YOU NOT.
“What’s your position on offshore drilling?”
DRILL BABY DRILL!
“Rick Perry is an idiot.”
RICK PERRY IS STANDIN’ TALL FOR FREEDOM.
“Sarah Palin is an idiot.”
CUT HER MIKE!
“God is a fictional creature.”
WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA? WHY DO YOU HATE FREEDOM?
And the screen went dark, replaced by a fluttering Old Glory. I tried the link again, to see what else I could get out of it, but was rewarded this time with a message that my IP address was now blocked, which was entertaining enough in itself.