Qwerty to dystopia

Today's Writer's Bloc guest is Dr. Greg Bolcer, a security, Web, and social networking expert, and a sometimes entrepreneur who likes movie quotes. He is a snarky know-it-all, with friends in high places. He has returned with a bit of qwerty, layered with dsytopian bleakness.

Qwerty to dystopia

By Dr. Greg Bolcer

There is nothing more rote than asdf, aka qwerty, aka the standard layout on English-language typewriters.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog ad nauseum. Every key in the alphabet, and then some.

I had four years of asdf in high school - on a mechanical typewriter, no less. Although I was the very first generation to grow up with computers, our typing class was on the old-style mechanical typewriters.  

Some of those machines were so tough I had blisters on my fingers, and my finger muscles had their own set of muscles (no, we don’t have finger muscles, but it seemed so at the time).

Using a mechanical keyboard is a preference that has followed me to this day. I can't type on a softkey keyboard. Like Pavlov and his dog’s bell, I need the resounding clack of a mechanical keyboard:

Rocket Jump Ninja

When I'm working late at night or early in the morning, it drives my kids and wife crazy, because the sound is so crisp and distinct, and can carry through time and inner space to the centre of your consciousness - in a bad way.    

After my stint in high school, an enterprising researcher chose a random selection of students to participate in a lifetime study. The study was simple. They asked, 

“What did you learn in high school that is most applicable to your daily life?”

They sent out the survey immediately after graduation, then one year later, three years, five years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years.

My answer was the same every single time: Four years of typing. 

I have memory in my fingers that allows me to type faster than my brain can think. That's not always a good thing, but it turns out that being able to type computer code or witty prosaicisms faster than the speed of thought is really good for your career.  

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Going forward to today, there are millions of kids who know how to type on a non-clacky tactile screen with only two fingers. The full effects on spelling and grammar will be felt for generations, with the new generations completely changing how English is written while they simply amuse themselves to death with Candy Crush and stories of Clash of Clans’ last Lava Pups.

This makes me wonder if we're creating a generation of users and not creators. If we can't teach the next generation to create new, complex, and exciting things, where are we going to get to? 

There is, in modern legend, the idea that artificial intelligence computers will take over the world. If they're not going to take over the world, then at least they are going to take over our jobs. In fact, they are starting to take bets on what jobs the machines will take over first. My money is on computer patents. Give a computer a patent and it'll index it for search. Give a computer the ability to write patents, and it'll completely overwhelm the Patent Office with clever, relevant, and accurate patent filings. 

I'm guessing they'll come for the bloggers next, but that's the genie in the bottle, the toothpaste out of the tube, and the ghost in the machine. That probably won't happen until they fire all the obituary writers at all the newspapers, so we have some reprieve. 

George Orwell mused, "Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after.” He also imagined a world in which there was no private information not owned by some government or corporation. 

Another of my favourite authors, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), imagined a world in which nothing meaningful was accomplished or created, while people drowned in a “perpetual flood of irrelevant and trivial information that distracts people from taking interest in anything important".  

While a very strong case can be made that both of these dystopians have come true, I see the world as much more Vonnegutian. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a novel over 64 years ago called Player Piano. In this book, scientists and engineers thought that by strapping robotic gloves onto a person as they did their day to day tasks, and recording the movements, they could completely eliminate the need for human labourers.

While it's easy to imagine the world being taken over by this type of automation, the practicality of someone inventing something that can actually do it seems very unlikely. The previous generation couldn't find a way to do it. My generation, so much more intelligent, couldn’t figure it out either. And, speaking from my generation's infinite wisdom, I can't see the next generation of maladroit iPad user being hit by some sub-atomic space clue, resulting in an epiphany leading to this type of mass automation.  

I think we have nothing to fear - at least from artificial intelligence, robots, and automation - but fear itself, for the generations to come.     

Questions or comments, email [email protected]

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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