I have a soft spot for Google. The very name is endearing – to me at least it smacks of the nursery, belonging to a slightly battered favourite toy. More importantly, the programme itself is the greatest ever time-saver and tracker of references, providing information for which in pre-Google days (feels like the last Ice Age) one had to traipse to the reference section of the nearest Public Library and painstakingly dig out the needed data. So I follow all news concerning Google with interest, which is how I came across the following information (quoting from memory):
Google’s voice-activated Assistant Duplex can carry out entire phone conversations by itself. This technology has been worked on for many years and is still being developed, to help consumers do daily tasks, such as booking hair appointments or making restaurant reservations.
Eh? But surely consumers have been coping with those tasks ever since hairdressers and restaurants have existed, or more precisely since we’ve had telephones. What difference will it make whether I or Duplex books my much-needed hairdo? Actually Duplex could make a total mess of this simple task, as – unlike I – it can’t check other entries in my diary. The whole idea is a no-brainer, and to hear that many years of hard work have been invested in its development sounds depressing. “Mountains are in labour, a ridiculous small mouse will be born,” Horace wrote over 2000 years ago, and a better metaphor could hardly be found. Are there no other tasks for our awesome technological skills to carry out?
But perhaps I should scrutinize the true motivation behind the invention of Duplex. And the first thing that springs to mind is that according to C.G.Jung, the human being’s greatest passion is idleness. Now it’s safe to assume that Jung knew what he was talking about, but even so his view is confirmed by a somewhat downbeat text I once saw in a collection of international folk wisdom:
“It’s better to sit than to stand, better to lie down than to sit, better to sleep than just lie down, better to be dead than just asleep.” Well, that seems a trifle drastic and we can safely ignore it. What remains is the lasting love of idleness – workaholics, please stop reading – and its immediate result: the need to find someone or something that’ll do the necessary work instead of us. To achieve that should be enough for the average idler, but there’s the added pleasure of superiority, of having Duplex – or Alexa or the increasing army of electronic slaves – to do our bidding.
The more I ponder this, the less attractive we people sound, even if having electronic slaves instead of human ones sounds a great improvement. Also, the principle of “use it or lose it” chimes in a warning. Just imagine, if we gradually transferred all useful activities to Duplex-style electronic assistants , becoming unskilled in the process, and one day the global supply of electricity would run out (as we are told it will ), we would quickly perish from sheer helplessness. Which might be a chance for the Duplex lot, boosted by Artificial Intelligence, to take charge of the world.
But hang on! All that passivity and idleness is only half the story. Put against it the lasting popularity of DIY in home and garden, the innumerable brave and often calamitous attempts to make one’s personal world a better place, and the gloom begins to rise. Personally I’m immune to any such ambition but still remember my amazement when a highly erudite friend boasted to me of his greatest ever achievement – replacing some cracked tiles in his bathroom. The way he sounded, he might have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it’s time for me to revise my set of values.
So here we are, passionately idle and passive on the one hand and hyperactive and creative on the other. No advanced version of Duplex will ever combine those two opposites. We are a crazy mixed-up lot, and I just love it.