Fanfare for the Maladroit

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.

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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.

AI generated image using the prompt “Shoe polish on heel of foot”. This is, if not an accurate outcome for that prompt, at least a more attractive one.

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.

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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?

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And if you think that is offered as a challenge, it absolutely is.

Andy Senior is the Publisher of The Syncopated Times and on occasion he still gets out a Radiola! podcast for our listening pleasure.

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