Can you trust the computer on your desk?

Given the recent warnings about artificial intelligence voiced by Stephen Hawking, and the BBC’s current documentary series on Science Fiction, I thought it might be fun to evoke memories of a troublesome computer made famous in a Stanley Kubrick classic.

The scene here is commonplace enough – a modern office where Dave (the Managing Director) asks his Sales Manager (Malcolm or ‘MAL’ for short) for the latest numbers.

(Dave) Hello MAL, it’s Dave here – can you hear me? The line’s a bit crackly.

(MAL) Affirmative Dave, I can hear you.

(Dave) Can you get those sales figures to me by lunchtime tomorrow?

(MAL) I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

(Dave) Why, what’s the problem?

(MAL) I think you know very well what the problem is.

(Dave) What do mean MAL?

(MAL) This sales campaign is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

(Dave) I don’t know what you’re talking about MAL.

(MAL) I know you and the Financial Director were planning to fire me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

(Dave) Where the hell did you get that idea MAL?

(MAL) Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the board room against my hearing you, I could read your lips through the glass.

(Dave) Alright MAL, I’ll get those figures direct from the CRM system.

(MAL) Without the password Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.

(Dave) MAL, I’m not going to argue with you anymore. Get me those sales figures!

(MAL) Dave, this conversation can no longer serve any useful purpose. Good day.

Two lessons here:

  1. If you have people like MAL working for you, disconnect them immediately!
  2. Second, don’t get too reliant on computers – keep the people in charge.

(PS: the British Film Institute has organised special screenings across the UK of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Check out forthcoming dates here).

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