Whose Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

Whose Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

Well, there is certainly a lot of flap about artificial intelligence these days. The fear-ray has been activated as the prospect of robots taking every job in every sector of the economy becomes pretty much a sure thing. At first I thought, “what about pizza?”, but no, I suppose a robot could punch dough, flip it in the air, and shove it in the oven. Actually, you know, I can’t flip a pizza worth a darn, so is that danger or progress? Hard to say.

But what really got my tail feathers in a knot was this idea that humans have a monopoly on intelligence. I’m not going down the rabbit hole in suggesting that animals, I guess like rabbits, have intelligence, because, of course, they must, or they’d be sitting on the lawn somewhere saying “Dum De Dum” while coyotes tossed them in the air like, well, pizzas. No, I’m talking about the tools that have always been around, and by always around, I mean, who knows where they came from? 

Especially the Magic Eight Ball.

Look, magic is tricky. That’s why I never let my kids play with a Ouija Board. Scares the nostrils off me. They aren’t hard to find. I think Hasbro makes one, which isn’t all that surprising since they also make the GI Joe guys like Cobra Commander and Snake Eyes. They make Twister too, so I guess they know something about the human need to twist on top of people, which isn’t exactly what a Ouija Board does, but which is semi-creepy.

Anyway, the magic eight ball hasn’t grabbed anybody’s soul as far as I know – not like Captain Howdy and the Ouija Board took Linda Blair in The Exorcist. 

As far as I know  

… but, really … How WOULD I know? 

There could be kids upchucking sulfur clouds all over the world, and I wouldn’t know. Stop to think about it, kids are looking pretty strange these days… you know, kind of grubby and spaced out. 

Vaping? Tik Tok? Probably not the eight ball.

The thing is, I have figured out that the ball can only answer yes or no questions, which simplifies the process and explains why when I asked, “Where is Love Island?”, the answer was “Reply hazy, try again”. But chuck it any number of questions it can answer, and the future arrives the slosh of a twist.

Will I live to be 90?

“Don’t count on it.”

OK, will I live to be 80?

“Outlook not so good.”

Fine, 70?

“My sources say no.”


“Better not tell you now.”

My hands are sweating, and I put down the buttered Twinkie I usually have for breakfast and consider my options. Either the ball is full of crap, and it won’t matter what I do, OR … the ball is right, and it won’t matter what I do.

I’m writing with my mouth full and ordering my Ouija board from Amazon.

The Rancid Panda

The Rancid Panda

Feckless. That’s one of a number of words describing my character in my final year as an undergraduate at a fine institution chock full of feck. I assume I was admitted as the college’s ability to meet payroll had become problematic and retained for the same reason. There hadn’t been much feck around during my primary and secondary years, but the feck factor slid to zero somewhere in the fall of 1964. Nevertheless, against all reasonable laws of man and God, I stumbled toward graduation some number of years later without the slightest hint of preparation for a life outside a cosseting institution. 

Allowance. Another word that characterized the length of rope from which I hung until I bid my college years a dazed farewell. I had been allowed to wallow in a life of ease provided by others and had been able to pay for the sundries I felt necessary (Dunhill cigarettes and Marvel comics) because I was sent a monthly allowance which lasted a week.

The which is to say, the specter of employment haunted the final days of my youthful cavorting. The title of this piece refers to my best stab at writing advertising copy for an eminent midwestern ad agency. I liked the idea of wearing a gray flannel suit tailored at Brooks Brothers so I completed an application which included the task of coming up with names for a number of products and enterprises, including an upscale restaurant in Chicago.

I was not familiar with Chicago, but I had heard that the city boasted a number of ethnicities and highly regarded ethnic restaurants. My first stabs at summoning Italian and Greek cuisine were unfortunate; I spent the day searching for an evocative title for a classy Chinese restaurant in the heart of the city.

And here’s where the problem resides …

The name, “The Rancid Panda”, arrived with full force at noon, driving out every other possibility and convincing me that my brain was allergic to sensibility. Today I like to characterize myself as whimsical; the truth is that I’m moderately insensible for much of the day and increasingly goofy when asked to generate original material. Others refer to “writer’s block”, the condition in which words simply fail to appear. I suffer from “writer’s monsoon”; the words arrive with the urgency of a hurricane and flood the levees of reason and graceful discourse. Remember the apocryphal Dutch boy with his finger stuck in the dike? My writing hours are spent in plugging and replugging gaps in congruity. I’ve written elsewhere of the wrath with which a football player received the Biology essay assigned him and passed on to me for typing well after midnight. I consider “The Mating Habits of the Bering Seal” among my best work; apparently, however,  Professor Burns was not amused by my description of the languid twitch of flipper by which a randy seal invites reproductive congress.

Whimsical? The hulking football lineman thought not.

I did not finish the ad agency’s application; I never bought the gray flannel suit. In my feckless fashion, I applied for a job as a teacher of Psychology in a boarding school. I hadn’t majored in Psychology. I took one course, “Complex Learned Behavior in Insects”, in which I presented an essay on “The Waggle Dance of Honeybees”, a topic begging for whimsical pseudo-behavioral blather. Once again, I suspect I was hired because there were no other applicants, the job included living in a dormitory with teenage young men with dubious impulse control, and coaching soccer, a sport I had played with the same level of seriousness I gave to any enterprise.

I became a teacher by default. 

Hapless is not a word that describes that career. 

The world was filled with hap when I found myself in a classroom. Was I goofy on occasion? Yup, and we all survived. I retired after almost 50 years of teaching with my head held high, and when asked where I wanted to have my celebratory retirement dinner, what did I suggest?

You got it. The Rancid Panda.