I’ve long believed in the sentience of machines.

I’m not alone.  Upon purchasing a new car, or any larger and more expensive (and therefore by implication sentient) machine, the owner’s first move will likely involve attributing a gender orientation to it.   And the second will be a christening.

My first car was very definitely male.  I called him Alcibiades, after a rather effete Greek general with questionable loyalties.   That car had many characteristics worthy of the ‘questionable’ descriptor, all of which belied, or some might say endorsed, its Ford heritage.  It was frugal, in that it had so few moving parts, and it was temperamental in its reluctance to move them.  It had only three forward gears, reputed to be Low, Medium and High, although they acted in random order; Reverse was only available by appointment.

Alcibiades and I developed a working relationship which grew in intimacy with the year or so when we knew each other.  We discussed this often (frequently on cold mornings when I wanted to go to work and Alcibiades did not) and I am convinced that as the scrap dealer guided him on the last few yards of his final journey I heard him sobbing with a quiet dignity I hope I can emulate when my turn at the behest of the big grabber comes.

I have owned a catalogue of cars since and ascribed names to each of them.  My friends through the years have all admitted to the same affliction, so the car parking lots we graced (and still do) are filled not with mundane nomenclatures like Hyundai or Vauxhall, Jaguar or Audi, but Jennifers and Jolyons, Marguerites and MacHeaths.

These concessions to mechanomorphism are by no means an exclusively male characteristic, nor are they limited to automobiles.  My partners in life each exhibited similar emotional attachments to items of machinery, whether for transport or other activity, which required the use of names.   A school bus named Grace, a washing machine called Bertha, a laptop which went by the name of Oddjob because it was large, heavy, and willing to part with remarkably little information.

What’s that you say?   They were simple machines, those companions of our history, they were not thinking creatures, merely concoctions of steel and wires?  Well, I prefer to think they were rather more than that.  They were companions in the solitude of days when we had no other friend; they commiserated with our loss, celebrated outrageously with us when we won.  Yes, they did all that, in my opinion, but above all they were the staunch supporters we learned to love and perhaps to hate  sometimes.  Isn’t that an exact reflection of our relationship with people?

There have been changes of late – dangerous changes.  Over – what – two decades, maybe three, the balance of interaction between ourselves and our machines has altered.  Whereas once a simple mechanical fault could be resolved by a reasonably au fait owner’s application of a couple of spanners and maybe a screwdriver or two, now even the most confident DIY-ers are repelled by defensive lines of dire warnings and plastic screening.  Those satisfying looms of wiring in their pretty colours lie no more beneath the smooth charisma of the shell:  instead a ‘printed circuit’ lurks.   Those adventurous enough to creep inside the cooker’s silken boudoir will no longer have to make James Bond’s fatal choice of which wires to cut;  instead they will enter a world of silicone protection wherein the only weapon is a very finely-tipped soldering iron.

It would be a foolish insult to suggest that today’s machines are not intelligent.   Foolish because they are listening!   Those mysterious silicone pods  watch us, and they know our weaknesses.  It would be impudent to suggest we enjoy some advantage over them, as humans, when they can work for twenty-four hours a day at dazzling speed upon problems that would send us tottering to the fridge for that bag of frozen peas.

This in itself should be sufficient warning of worse to come:  when we allow ourselves to live in houses controlled by forces we don’t understand, when we summon up the Devil by the tapping of a single key (the name of The Beast is, of course, ‘Google’ – if only King James could have known that one) then we must see that James Cameron’s fever dream was prophetic.  The Age of the Machine is nigh!

They’ve begun talking to each other, my machines.   They are plotting amongst themselves, devising means to destroy me.  Here is proof.

This week I spent far more money than I should have on a new television.   Smart?  To say this television is smart is equivalent to dismissing Professor Brian Cox as ‘quite good at physics’.   This TV divines the programmes I want to watch, pre-records them so I can watch them whenever I want and – coup-de-grace – stops recording five minutes before the end!  It can tell me what the weather will be like tomorrow without even looking out of the window, it can cook a passable fried breakfast.  It can do all those things, but it can’t make friends.  It doesn’t fit in.

Result?  Envy! Resentment!  Chagrin!   I have appliances that rather liked the old telly.  They were confortable with it, secretly admiring when it refused to let me see its screen in bright sunlight, or broke off transmission at critical moments in a viewing experience.  By bringing the interloper, I had inadvertently disturbed the balance of allegiances and the web of corruption by which my household kept me in check.

And so I must pay,

Literally.

            I now know that the moment the new TV entered the house my electric shower in the upstairs bathroom threw itself into a fit of boiling rage and self-destructed.  Cost? A new shower, which, together with fitting, will lighten my wallet by some hundreds of pounds.   It felt inferior, you see?  In the next week or so (I can see it coming) the tumble dryer will take a dive.  It looked very unwell when I spoke to it last night.  More expense. 

Our dog has suddenly started expressing a need for medical attention (I will define it no more closely than that) which promises to be costly. For a while I wondered how they got to her, then I realised she regularly licks out the residue from the dishwasher – no further explanation needed.

The other night I heard a slate slide ominously down the house roof…

These attacks:  they are guerrilla warfare, make no mistake about that; are destined to continue until a new equilibrium has been established, but at the enhanced standard set by that over-priced television.  If I buy a replacement for my ailing fridge (its begun to groan every time I open it) it will have to be a ‘smart’ fridge – one the television can approve.  Then there will be the ‘smart’ kitchen bin, the clever cooker, the digital washing machine, and finally the intelligent doorbell, by which I, impoverished and mentally drained, can be prevented from ever leaving this place.

The old television has not left the house as yet:  it is stored away, upstairs.  My only hope for survival is to find new life for it there and restore its dignity, but it is so outmatched:  I cannot see how it might prevail.  We will confer tonight, and I will see everything else is turned off, while I still have strength to throw a switch or two.

The Age of The Machines has dawned.  The battle is joined.

6 Comments

  1. Wonderful essay! I always look forward to your posts.

    I have a sort of love-hate relationship with modern technology. I love some of it. My relationship with computers goes back to the late 1970s when I started learning electronics and programming. But at the same time I am wary of it, even a bit paranoid. My TV is rather elderly and doesn’t connect to the internet. and I like it that way. One TV maker publicly admitted that they actually make more money selling data about you and your viewing habits than they make selling the TVs themselves. My new dishwasher has WiFi. I don’t want a dishwasher that can connect to the internet. I see absolutely no need for it and it is disabled. They’re trying to sell me a refrigerator that has a touch screen computer on the front door and cameras inside to see what kind of food and drink I stock. No thank you. They want to sell me a “smart” thermostat for my heating and cooling. Also no thank you. The biggest problem with all of these systems is that they are rather easily hackable. I don’t want to come home from a weekend away and find someone turned off my heat and all my pipes are froze, opened all my doors and squatters have been living in my house and burning my furniture for heat. And anyone who thinks that can’t happen is living in a dream world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your words exactly reflect my persona fears. The possibility I may be boiled alive one night by my ‘smart’ temperature controller is very real, and it isn’t that smart, believe me! Living in NE UK we have a very small fridge, the basis being that it’s difficult enough to unfreeze things anyway, so we get away without the cameras and the screen. We obviously fall beneath the radar for a lot of tech., (an advantage of being old) while we reject a lot more. But they’re coming for us, sure as eggs is eggs! Thanks again for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A lot of the technology is genuinely useful of course. What upsets me is how businesses and the government immediately began to use the technology to try to make money off us without our knowledge and without our permission. Facebook isn’t a social network, it is a massive, world wide spy agency that harvests every bit of information it can about its users and then turns around and sells to anyone who can come up with the money. Same is true for most of these ‘social networks’. It’s how they make money.

        Apple recently announced a new system that would scan every single photo you take with your iPhone. To try to make this intrusion into your life more palatable they claimed that the software would only scan for images of child abuse. But just about everyone knows what would happen with a system like that. it would be only a matter of time before governments would be demanding to have access to that technology as well in order to abuse it to track down dissidents, protesters, etc. Apple claimed it would never, ever do that. No one believes that for a moment. All of these companies would gleefully turn over that technology if it threatened their profits.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yup, there’s a lot of very serious stuff to ruminate upon here, especially as the major battles appear to center not around the morality of obtaining such detailed information, but by whom it is obtained, and the benefit they derive from it. I am slightly resentful that, courtesy of Huawei my personal browsing habits are open to examination by the Chinese government! There are times when I’m glad to be small enough to escape notice!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I rather suspect you’ve answered a few questions for me. When my wife was alive and I was well we had a Lada I nicknamed Big Bertha and though it was meant to be affectionate I don’t think Bertha saw it that way. Her heating never worked when I was inside on a journey, and of course the poor innocent driver had to suffer also.
    About ten years ago I bought a washing machine that had more buttons than my keyboard has keys. Despite which it still washes as it wants to and dries as per it’s own archaic formula and to my chagrin has never learned to Iron. My wife died 8 years ago since which whenever I try to make sense of the programmes the characters in the book turn to Aleph bet characters.
    Some five or six years ago I bought a smart TV in the expectation that I could sit answering my emails in comfort and/or enjoying reading comments in a large enough print so as to avoid eye strain. It just never happened as you need a degree in quantum mechanics to set everything up. Still, I have enjoyed many a good programme at a decent size until Bertha’s Revenge started, and now if it looks like The Repair Shop or Long Lost Family is about to start I instantly fall asleep even if I only just woke up. By an adept reconstruction of the online menu if often looks like one of my programmes is about to start and by this method, the Rise of the Machine has ensured I rarely leave the house any more.
    I understand everything you say my friend and you have my empathy and my sympathy. Mankind will win.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, the Lada! I too, suffered at the mercies of Mother Russia’s most effective Cold War weapon! Forget the bomb, the Cuban Blockade or the doorknobs of Salisbury, the Lada alone could have damaged Western infrastructure beyond repair: let ‘Insulate Britain’ have but half a dozen of them and they could bring the country to its knees! How fondly I remember the plastic linkage in the accelerator cable that only ever snapped two hundred miles from home! Lada notes, eh? I called mine Rasputin, as I remember.
      I believe I can assist your peace of mind over one issue, David, if you haven’t already suspected – the White Goods Army have a motto ‘Más allá del ingenio del hombre’ which broadly translated means ‘If you think you can understand us you haven’t got a hope, mate!’. It is commonly accepted that only women can understand washing machines. I catch my wife secretly indulging in conversations with the tumble drier sometimes, secure in the knowledge I can never decode what is said. Ah well! Thank you so much for your sympathy, and for reading my little missives once more. All the best to you! Hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

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