Is Hal 9000 on the Way?

Posted on July 29, 2014 by Robert Ringer


Like most people over sixty, I have a love-hate relationship with computers. I guess I’m lucky to have been able to jump on the caboose of the computer train just in the nick of time, back in 1982. By just in the nick of time, I mean that I was still young enough to become proficient on a computer, something that would have been considerably harder to do had I waited another ten years or so.

It never ceases to amaze me how, with a computer, I can do in minutes what used to take hours — or even days. Basically, my computer has become my brain. Because I put a lot of work into organization, there aren’t many files or documents that I can’t find in seconds. It sure beats having rows of file cabinets filled with paper, and, even just as important, it beats having to rely on your brain to remember things.

Back in the day, whenever I received a letter, resume, contract, or some other written document in the mail, I could tell a lot about the person who crafted it. When people had to create documents without artificial aids, it was easy to make an initial separation of the wheat from the chaff.

But today, everyone’s work looks professional. So much so that I don’t allow myself to be impressed just because someone’s computer-generated document sparkles. The Internet is overflowing not only with readymade resume templates, but every conceivable kind of form, so there’s very little knowledge or skill required to put together a great looking document. And that’s what’s bothersome to me — the fact that in today’s digital world a person doesn’t need much skill or knowledge to navigate through and around the checkpoints.

Take the GPS, for example. I don’t use a GPS, because I’ve always carried around a map in my head while driving. If you know where the sun is, and approximately what time of the day it is, you know where east, west, north and south are (or at least you should). Nighttime is a bit more challenging, but so long as that map is in your head, you’re usually in good shape.

Today, millions of people — especially young people — have no clue how to get around without a GPS. My son takes it to an extreme and has a backup GPS in his car, just in case the first one goes bad. He can’t imagine how anyone could get from one location to another without using a GPS.

The last time I was out with him, he was, as usual, glued to his GPS, listening to that annoying English bloke who keeps telling you to bear right, then turn left after a hundred yards. It’s like having a stalker in your car.

Because I don’t trust anyone who’s invisible, I started volunteering directions to my son. At one point, I told him, “Take the next exit. It will start out curving to the left, then it will curve back to the right and you’ll be going south on the Beltway.”

After getting off at the exit, he was amazed at how accurate my description had been, which prompted him to say, “I can’t believe it. You’re a human GPS.” I didn’t bother to tell him that virtually no one had a GPS until ten or fifteen years ago, and that before then, everyone was a human GPS. Or else they got lost a lot.

But today, as with creating documents, a person doesn’t need to have a great deal of knowledge in order to get from point A to point B. All he needs to do is listen to the talk-alike version of Hal 9000 in his GPS and he’s pretty certain to end up in the right place.

Genius-creating digital gadgets — tablets, smartphones, portable credit-card swipers, and tiny flash drives storing 256 gigabytes of information, among others — have brought a lot of equality to the game. Digital toys are fun to use, and they also speed up our business and personal lives and help keep our minds off the corruption in Washington and the overall devolution of Western civilization.

Harry Browne once said that when people say things like, “It’s ridiculous that we can go to the moon, but we can’t put an end to poverty,” they’re wrong. He further explained, “I don’t know how to fly to the moon. Only a handful of people know how to fly to the moon, but, one way or another, I can reap the benefits of their knowledge and skill.” Harry was right. Most of us are merely awe-struck bystanders of such accomplishments.

The point is that, when it comes to survival, the average person is at the mercy of those who possess high-level knowledge, because he can’t function without digital devices that do the heavy lifting for him. Unfortunately, when the power grid is taken out, he’s going to be in a heap of trouble — but that’s another discussion for another day.

In the meantime, keep in mind that digital devices can have either a positive or negative impact on your life, depending on how you choose to use them. A person can embrace modern technology for self-destructive purposes — e.g., watching rap-crap videos, pornography, or get-rich-quick webinars — or he can choose to use it in constructive ways, primarily obtaining valuable knowledge and enjoying quality entertainment.

But back to computers. As I said, I have a love-hate relationship with this paradoxical tool, and the number-one thing that concerns me is how easy computers make it for someone to invade my privacy. What’s especially unsettling about this problem is knowing that it’s only going to get worse.

I confess, I have a paranoia that Hal 9000 might be reading my lips someday and decide to terminate me. There’s nothing more scary than a sentient supercomputer.

Of course, if Hal could be taught to write my articles for me, that might temper my concerns about a lack of privacy. Hmm … let me chew on that for a while.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.