Artificial stupidity will never replace the real thing. This motto, of which I should commission an embroidered sampler, is brought home to me on a daily basis as I blunder through life’s little I.Q. tests, leaving wreckage in my wake. Referring to last month’s sermon, “I Am Not a Robot,” I begin to consider that it might be better if I were. One’s fleshiness might be where all the inspiration and fun is—the syncopation, if you will—but it is also the home of blurry vision, clumsiness, hubris, and walking out onto a ledge that isn’t there.
It is in that spirit that I confess to having published a ten-year-old press release almost without having read it simply because it was sent to me by the publicity director (now fired) of a well-known jazz festival. Oh, I waded through the thicket of commas and extra spaces and misspellings but with no comprehension that the whole bundle was a bit stale. That the writer was looking forward to events in 2014 should have been a clue. Even a not particularly bright robot would have caught that discrepancy.
If I were indeed a robot, I’d be the Roomba rolling through a pile of cat barf and painting the carpet with it. It is merely vainglorious that I take pride in my meat and sinew and cranial jelly and the marvels they can accomplish. “Yes, but can a supercomputer do this?” I might have said as I stumbled down the stairs and stabbed myself in the hinder with a metal picture frame. It has been said that there are no accidents, but I doubt it. If I don’t get distracted enough to do one seriously clumsy thing each day I’m sure something went wrong. There is enough slapstick in my life that my piano-playing friends should be here to provide accompaniment.
More recently, I woke up after having earlier absentmindedly scratched my shin raw to apply isopropyl alcohol to the mess. I went back to bed and when I arose I discovered that the heel of the foot of that leg had turned black. My wife tried to suggest that it was shoe polish, but I pooh-poohed such a suggestion. It was obviously gangrene or the manifestation of flesh-eating bacteria. I accepted that amputation would be inevitable, and that I should get used to being called “Stumpy.” An emergency appointment with a dermatologist confirmed my worst fears: my wife was right. The blacking came right off with an alcohol pad.
Regarding my editorial follies, I do my best to scour for typos even as floaters dance across my field of vision. Errors nevertheless occur because I can’t think as fast as I can type. Perhaps that is the one indication that a meaty human is at the helm. Often I don’t catch obvious lapses until the stories are in layout—or two weeks after I receive the printed copy of the issue, which I re-read to gloat over my obvious superiority to mere machines.
It may be that a newer model would do a better job. Nineteen sixty-two, which is my date of delivery, recedes ever faster into the rear-view mirror. I demonstrated that I was a lemon almost from the beginning—unsafe at any speed—even standing still. I thought I was headed for the scrapyard twenty years ago. Here I am, though, doing inefficiently what others would not have the heart or patience to do in perfect health. My personal carbon footprint looks like it was made with a clown shoe, but on I belch and chug.
I thought this month of launching a contest: Who Wants to Be an Editor? I was dissuaded from such a venture, and it is just as well. I am ever more convinced that no one wants to be an editor. I have the job, it is mine, and I am likely to have it for some time. One friend suggested (rightly) that I need a vacation; another (not knowing the extent of my extreme Luddism) said that I could generate content using—you guessed it—ChatGPT. I don’t believe that the subscribers of The Syncopated Times could stand that much streamlined AI perfection. Rather than merely becoming inured to lower standards of typographical accuracy, I would like to think that they have grown fond of seeing my thumbprints all over this thing.
By that token, I wonder if it is likely that a newer and more advanced version of ChatGPT will be able to mimic my idiosyncrasies, my flubs, my occasionally offensive thoughts that I cannot bear to keep to myself, my backward-marching taste in music, and my ceaseless undercurrent of agita that makes this happen every month. In direct contravention of Newtonian physics, can they fabricate a simulacrum of a 1962 Perpetual Motion Machine?
This fleshy jalopy that I call myself shouldn’t work—it never should have worked—but it does. Sometimes it doesn’t want to work and sometimes it goes clear off the rails. Whatever it does (or doesn’t do), I am ever grateful for your kind attention, especially since I spent the first fifty years of my life trying to get noticed.
As technology now stands, even the most advanced computer trying to do what I do would probably melt. Unfortunately, I feel that is also true for any potential human editor. Who could bear to surf this lava flow of angst?
And if you think that is offered as a challenge, it absolutely is.