Flat White

Covid-free and painfully satirical

12 December 2021

2:00 PM

12 December 2021

2:00 PM

In 1951, British futurist Arthur C Clarke wrote a short story envisaging a journey into space which evolved into the 1968 film collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Central to the film is an evil computer HAL, sometimes described as a sentient artificial general intelligence computer – a device capable of rational, independent thought with the ability to make consequential decisions.

Clarke is more usually described as a science fiction writer, and although his concept of a heuristically programmed algorithmic computer may have seemed fanciful in 1951, by 1968 such devices were crucial to space exploration, though always human controlled.

Ultimately HAL went rogue, blaming human input error while dispassionately taking control of his increasingly panicked human crewmates until his homicidal intent was finally disabled.

Of course, HAL’s progeny live on in science fiction and also in real life as Hydra-like spawn which now seems to regulate in some way almost every form of human activity.

Perhaps the most sinister is Facebook’s unpredictable BOT – the robotic program which holds life and death control over what is, and more crucially, what is not acceptable to Facebook’s erratic and often unintelligible ‘community standards’.

When FaceBOT strikes in the middle of the night, carting away your Facebook identity and records, resistance, as every victim will attest, is futile.

No amount of perfectly logical reasoning, impassioned pleading, or requests to have decisions reviewed penetrates FaceBOT’s inscrutable defences.

A case in point.

Nearly two decades ago, an Internet tyro was recommended Facebook as a way to keep in touch or reconnect with like-minded friends and family – particularly when isolated from them by location, distance and time.

It was free, he was told, and unobtrusive: a few simple details to register, establish an account, and Facebook’s world was your oyster.

One of the questions listed was birthdate.

Quite reasonably, he thought that was one detail too personal for Facebook to know, given such questions as age and gender are now optional even on official sites.

Perhaps being too clever by half, he decided to pick a date less than his real age, which could invite unsolicited advertisements from those attempting to provide his third set of teeth, yet not so young as to invite the unwarranted attention of dismissed private school boarding masters, defrocked priests, or undercover detectives.

He then promptly forgot it, which he increasingly does with his real birthday.

Until recently, when someone ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ created a mirror image of his actual site and attempted to attract others to it.

An attempt to follow the recommended action and change the password resulted in FaceBOT restricting the page until he re-established his details – including his birthdate.

A Mexican stand-off has ensued, (an expression in itself which could likely offend FaceBOT’s ultra-sensitive community standards by promoting race hatred).

If there are any controlling humanoids left in Facebook’s realms, FaceBOT seems intent on preventing them from interfering.

HAL, a least, made a token pretence at compassionate compromise.

Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over,’ HAL reassures astronaut Dave Bowman, as it becomes increasingly clear Dave believes HAL is actually losing the plot, and finally pulls the plug.

His defences down and his life-giving heuristic algorithms draining away, HAL actually admits to making mistakes.

I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.’

Now that is pure science fiction in relation to FaceBOT, though one hopes with open access and calm reasoning, Facebook may be convinced to reassess and reverse some of its more outrageous decisions.

Perhaps after all, with patience and perseverance, the meek can inherit the earth.

If that’s okay with the rest of you.

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