Artemy Lebedev

§ 98. I, robot

January 18, 2003

Tongue or language, according to Dal’s accurate definition, is “a body of all words of a people and their correct combinations, [used] to convey one’s thoughts”.

One of definitions of tongue by Webster’s Dictionary: “A muscular organ, attached by one end to the floor of the mouth, serving as the instrument of taste, and in man of articulation also”

A computer allows you to quickly create many, many similar things. To add some diversity, a special man with a brain is needed, but he’s normally the one who is not on the invitation list, although it is a human who can make correct combinations of words to convey his ideas as opposed to a computer who doesn’t care.

By devising a computer, humankind has delivered a crippling blow to its own self, virtually bereaving itself of the joys of social intercourse, let alone the joys of good design and exquisite type.

There are few sturdy people who can withstand the temptation to benefit by computer’s easy ways of duplicating the same template. That is the very reason why the author gets loads of congratulations like this one:

Dear Mr. (Ms.)
Artemy Lebedev,
I would like to wish you a merry…

If there’s still the name and the second name in the database, why not add the “sex” column and print a disambiguated text? Why emphasize the name as if it were filled in into an official postcard, whereas the entire text is printed out on a printer? Why force the addressee to put a mental stress upon the appropriate term (especially if she’s exactly that Ms. in the derogatory brackets)?

Here’s another example of robotics. Nearly at all websites with the “News” section first comes a short abstract of a news item (or its headline), followed by a “read more” link. This poor hackneyed phrase is so often used not because it performs the task of transferring the reader to the full news content. It’s put there because there’s no need to change it every time: it’ll work anyway. Instead of hiring an editor who would place links from the meaningful parts of a news item, website builders view the phrase “read more” as a simpler way to get the news section done away with: it’s placed automatically and doesn’t require any attention:

Here’s a fine example of a job done by a robot that just puts three dots as soon as the number of characters reaches a particular amount:

Obiter dictum

Lucky are those whose native language is English. Unlike Russian, English doesn’t have inflection (a change in the form of a word).

Nearly all of electronics are created by English-thinking people, so they don’t care for problems of a language with a highly developed morphology. There’s still no simple and easy way to decline Russian words in order to build usable Russian phrases. Therefore websites’ headings abound in patterns like “Company N: News” instead of a more relevant “News of company N”. The first variant is utterly effortless: the phrase blocks are arranged by a robot, while in the second example it is a human who has to decline words.

Belated as it may be, I’d still be willing to venture a guess that people thinking in Russian would not have been able to create a personal computer. They would have had to think in numbers, not words, and the outcome would still have been a missile system, not a home or office appliance.

Computer is a great application tool. Spending a little human time may be enough to make its communication with people proceed in a more or less human fashion.

Getting a robot to talk to is abhorrent. But still worse are people beginning to think and write like robots do, forgetting the normal language.

Dear comrade Anastasia Ivanovna!
You are kindly invited (with your husband, with your wife) to an evening performance dedicated to honoring the veterans of labor and the best workers which will be held on:
February 14, 1986 at 7 p.m.
at the Oil Industry Employees’ House of Culture

Is there any other explanation for the e-mail, forum or chat greeting “Good time of the day!”? When people start thinking like robots, robots’ performance deteriorates.

We’ve got to change this situation. Seconds left before the situation changes: 1.

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