Stupid Computers

(c) Useable Learning
(c) Useable Learning

Ah, let’s start out today with a nice little happy thought to just get us in the right mood and faithful of the future; Computers are stupid. I don’t mean that the devices we call computers, of any (micro)chip activated electrical element are fashionably stupid; not at all. But they are practically the dumbest thing that is available on this planet.

Besides the pet rock, let’s take something that is able to do something on its own that really is at the bottom of the food chain; the single cell organism. Even this tiny little speck on the map of existence has the capabilities of reproducing and keeping itself alive during it’s average expected lifespan. It might not ‘think’, and it might not do anything that is considered to be intelligent. But at least, it does things, complex things like reproducing.

Now, let’s take a computer. A computer can only understand yes or no. Not even that. Actually, on or off. There are no survival mechanisms. If you put a computer in a burning building at the verge of collapsing; it will not try to run away or even stand under a door post. It will stay there, saying yes or no, and meet its doom.

So, at one point in time, say about a 120 years ago – take or leave a couple of years – the whole concept of a machine that just understood the on or off status was born. And with that knowledge, based on that, the computer was born. Born from a switch, which, actually, is the same as the pure essence of a computer; it can be or off or on.

So, someone else had the idea that while a switch could be only on, or off, if you added another switch, you had twice the possibilities. I mean, come on, you now went from on, off to on-on, on-off, off-off, off-on. Whazaam! Magic in the making!

And just like any other language, if you would interpolate it correctly, and write down meanings of all these combinations, you could communicate. If we would say that the combinations on-on, on-off, off-off, off-on would resemble these words the, is, weather, warm we could actually make a couple of sentences here:

The Weather Is Warm (on-on, off-off, on-off, off-on)

Warm Is The Weather (off-on, on-off, on-on, off-off)

and so on. You get the point.

So, zip through time back to the present, and voila, with our mobile phones, tablets, desktop power stations we have some pretty intense machinery here. But actually, it is still dumb as dirt. At least, here it is. I don’t know about your computer, but mine is still not able to keep itself alive, mention that something is actually wrong, or make a well based decision on its own.

Microchip manufacturers have put billions of dollars into being able to put millions of actual switches on a chip the size of a speck of dust. But, they are still switches.

So around the 80’s and 90’s, with movies like War Games and The Terminator, the public scare of our machines turning against us became a big phenomenon, and still it is. Well, duh! Have you ever communicated with someone who doesn’t understand a thing, and can only respond with yes or no? It is freakin’ impossible! You would stab yourself in the eye if that conversation went on.

As a typical nerd, I too was involved at one time in my live in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. And even there, it is said that a creature that has the lowest intelligence level of 1, by simply having animal instincts. Guess what? A computer doesn’t have those!

And it gets even better. Let’s introduce Quantum Computing. Now this, this is something else, literally. Even though Quantum Computing still recognizes the switch, it can actually be multiple states of itself. Technically, this makes absolute sense, but it takes some time to sit down for it and let it work into you. A computer is going from ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to ‘Hmmmm…. could be Yes and No!’.

It sounds weird, but actually, if you understand that, overly simply put that a switch can be yes and no at the same time, gives that one switch a lot more possibilities. Thus, making a computer absolutely more powerful because it simply can have an exponential amount more of decisions it can make with the same number of switches.

But I am on a side-track. We are talking about switches here. Because mankind always seems to be wanting to simulate life, we work on a machine that has the absolute basics that in no way resemble life – which is needed for any intelligent being – the switch.

The only switch in life, the only real on or off state, is life or death. Well, I would say there is more to life than just that. The building blocks of a computer are too simple. And maybe that is what is getting us into trouble all the time.

When my wife and I talk, sometimes she looks at me with that strange look that means ‘You did not really say that!’. And what that means, is that I, with Dutch being my native language and English my second, I do make mistakes in the translation from time to time, which sometimes provides quite some hilarious, but some times strange situations because people might misinterpret me.

And that is with languages I know, more or less, 70,000-80,000 words of (while each one may have 300,000+ words in the language itself). Keep in mind, for a computer to even read one single word, it might need already a huge amount switches. Because every switch state should be translated into letter, the language it is in, and then the amount of letter to form the word.

I can mention the word ‘the’ without problems. Even ‘The Sky Is Blue’ and we know what is being said. A computer needs thousands of switches to handle even that sentence, and that is only getting the message, not even understanding it, saying it, doing something with it at all.

Now, don’t get this rambling the wrong way. Tonight I will put on my headphones, indulge myself in the post-apocalyptic world of Nevada and Arizona in New Vegas while an airplane completely relying on all these computers guided us safely through the air last week from the actual Nevada and Arizona. With my phone I can more or less do whatever, wherever, whenever I want.

But still… sometimes my computer still goes ‘Kunk!’, trips over itself, and simply dies. It is like turtle on its back. But even a turtle squirms and tries. My computer, well, trips just lays there, and well, does nothing. Just accepts death until its reboot. And because of that sudden death, everything else might be messed up that actually was running on that computer. Oh Lord… isn’t it always fun when something breaks in a computer, it is always drastic. Like it is a switch. Something works, or is absolutely failing. A component or code in a computer will never be ‘somewhat performing okay but not always.’

Sigh…. stupid computers. No matter if it is Apple, Windows, Whatever. It is the basis that is in my perception what makes it weird. Too much is added for our computers to make sense out of those tiny switches. And too many elements give it too many places where something can go wrong. Oh, bring on Quantum Computing. I am ready for it.

Of course, this rambling has an origin. My car’s dashboard, completely computerized, has been showing issues of late. And, as you might understand, with my rant above, it is working, or not at all. Which is indeed the case. Driving 75 miles an hour and  * poof *, the dashboard is gone. No numbers, no gages…. gone. As if my Flux Compasitor has run out of nuclear fuel.

I do have to say, that in the meantime, my mobile phone with its built-in GPS comes to the rescue and actually shows the gages that I need. And it makes me wonder and be surprised, the thing that causes so many troubles, often also provides the cure.


Stupid Computers.


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