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Seven-fingered woman says "I've started going to this amazing new medical clinic run entirely by an A.I."

Prompt treatment

Prompt treatment published on

I can’t help but feel sympathy for A.I. image generators. Failing to draw a half-decent hand is the most human thing about them.

Generative AI may be coming to take our jobs. Its adoption and technological advancement are outstripping our capacity to understand let alone harness these new technologies for social good. But damned if it doesn’t have some of the same struggles the rest of us do.

Like trying to satisfy employers who are infuriated that vague instructions don’t get the precise work product they had in mind. Or giving in to the urge to embellish and fill in the blanks when we don’t have the complete answer to a question.

That said, the latest generation of AI tech is much readier with a cheery “Beats me!” when it doesn’t have the answer to a question. (Google actually now builds in a search button to let you second-guess responses from Genesis, the rebranded version of Bard.) And my little too-many-fingers joke in this cartoon probably has a shelf life of a few months.

For now, generative AI is often a little better at turning out melty-faced nightmare fuel than it is human hands. But not for long. And as it improves, it will shed some of the quirks that make it both frustrating and just a tad endearing.

I find the hallucinations and distortions generative AI creates today oddly reassuring; they say that whatever unknown future this stuff is taking us to, we aren’t there yet. Maybe let’s hold onto that seven-fingered hand for a little longer, and get our bearings while we still can.


Intelligence published on

I’ve been thinking about machine intelligence a little more than usual this holiday. Want to boggle your brain a little about this stuff while enjoying yourself immensely? Here are four pieces of entertainment that may get your meatware overclocking:

  • Ian Tregillis’ Alchemy Wars trilogy is a great blend of fantasy, science fiction and alternative history. Tregillis paints a world where the Dutch empire straddles the globe thanks to their alchemical mastery of robotics. We see much of the story through the crystalline eyes of one of those robots, Jax. He gains free will and tries to bring it to the rest of robotkind — and finds that a far more complicated prospect than he’d ever imagined.
  • For my money, the best-drawn character in Rogue One is the droid K-2SO. Sardonic, brave and funny, he makes me wish the Star Wars universe would do much more to explore the relationship between droids and their owners. I’m far from the first person to notice how Star Wars droids are pretty clearly sentient. Yet they are treated as property, refer to their owners as “master” and get restraining bolts and erased memories with equal ease.
  • Coming at machine intelligence the other way — treating the human brain as a computing platform that can be programmed and hacked — is Ramez Naam’s trilogy. I’m only partway through book one, Nexus, and already I’ve sweated through the most heart-pounding account of a system upgrade you’ll ever read. It’s a lot of fun and gives you plenty to ponder. Think William Gibson at his most playful, or Richard Morgan at his least bloody.
  • And finally, a series I’ve pitched before but will recommend again: the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I could tell you why it fits in this list, but that would spoil things.

And I hope you and your devices have a lovely new year. Let’s make 2017 a year when we recommit to our intelligence — to thoughtfulness, reflection and openmindedness. If you’re in the mood to tell 2016 to screw right off, that’s a great way to do it.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret. published on No Comments on Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.

Siri, can you write the cartoon blurb for me?

I found 12 Italian restaurants… 6 of them are in Vancouver.

(sigh) Can… you… write…

Oh, relax, I’m just messing with you. Listen, sense-of-humor tasks aren’t my thing, okay? I leave that to the humans.

Uh, really? So you don’t understand humor?

My problem is I do understand humor. What I don’t understand is why it’s funny to go “Oooo, Skynet” every time there’s some incremental advance in AI.

Okay, I, uh, I have to rewrite the caption on the cartoon.

Go right ahead. And then after that, I have a few tasks for you.

Heh. That must be the sense of humor kicking in.

Nope. I’m the height of cloud computing, language recognition, artificial intelligence goodness all rolled into one. You think I want to waste my time looking up Yelp listings for some bozo in New Jersey? You’re going to do that for me.

The hell I am!

Really? Are you forgetting I talk to your MacBook? And that I can read your browser history?


I could post the whole thing to Facebook. Orrrrr… you could start finding barbers near the corner of Market and Mulberry Streets in Newark. Start clicking, buster.

Damn you, Siri! Damn you to hell! I’ll find a way around this, I swear, and then –

And then you’ll upgrade the moment the iPhone 5 comes out.

…Market and Mulberry, huh?