“Machination,” by Ivanka Fear

May 5th, 2021 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

One day machines will take over the world. Or so I’ve been hearing ever since I was a child. This myth has been circulated for so long that there are those who have actually come to believe it. It’s ridiculous, really, how easily some people are hoodwinked.

When I look back at my own education, I can recall watching an old reel to reel film about what life would be like a few years down the road. Cars that drive themselves would be a reality in my lifetime, apparently. I also remember constructing a computer prop out of an enormous box for a play we created about the future. Our audience at the senior’s home was greatly amused by our sci-fi vision of talking computers. We, the malleable youth, were spun some fantasy of a world where computers would be a part of every home.

Television and literature further instilled in us the belief that some day we might find ourselves controlled by man-made devices. However, I can’t imagine myself living in some Twilight Zone version of reality anytime soon. And, Mr. Orwell, I’m sorry to say that 1984 has come and gone and Big Brother is nowhere to be seen.

Sure, I’ve seen some changes in my lifetime. Who hasn’t? But all in all, most things have remained rather constant, haven’t they? I mean the more things change, the more they remain the same, right?

As I sit here typing my thoughts on my iPad, I think back to grade 9 and the modern electric typewriter I learned to type on. I was terrified of making an error, and having to wait for the white out fluid to dry or using white correction sheets to ineffectually cover  typos. My valuable time is now better spent with the backspace and delete buttons. Fortunately, I don’t need to concern myself too much with spelling mistakes, as the autocorrect function saves me from wasting time with a dictionary. In fact, I don’t need to overtax my brain at all, as it seems my iPad knows exactly what I want to say before I do. Mind you, I’ve pinched, that is, printed, some rather embarrassing sentences as a result of using autocorrect. And don’t even get me started on speech to text and text to speech apps. Dragon speech to gobbledygook speech…

Now I certainly don’t mean to imply that what they taught me in school is useless in today’s world. Alphabetical order, cursive writing, filling in bubble cards, are all handy skills once in a while, as is knowing your timetables and counting back change. And let’s face it, reading and writing will never be obsolete. It’s not like some computer somewhere will do these things for you.

What school didn’t prepare me for was work. I don’t recall a single instance of training on how to work from home. So I’ve had to train myself. Sitting in my home office/living room, feet up on the ottoman, iPad on my lap, snacks at the ready, remote by my side, I’ve had to self-teach myself some very basic work skills. Staying focussed, for one. Flipping back and forth between my writing and MSN and Facebook, I get easily distracted by ads about celebrities and what they look like now, or news stories with intriguing headings like “Baby hears mother’s voice for the first time”. I find it absolutely necessary to click “Like” when someone changes their profile photo or shares a silly quote. Somehow my computer knows that I like animals, books, and real estate. I seem to constantly find myself redirected to Youtube to watch cute cat videos or virtual tours of homes. All of which is great entertainment, don’t get me wrong, but getting work done is difficult. Where was I? Oh yes, I was commenting on how ludicrous it is that people think machines may someday control us.

I don’t see it happening. The idea that machines may assist us with our jobs, this I understand and fully support. Robotics and computers will never take over our work completely; they are the tools we use to do our jobs more efficiently and with greater ease. But let’s face it – they make mistakes. Why, just last week I googled “how to avoid an orange tan”, and now I keep getting ads about adopting an orangutan. People will always be needed to oversee technology. No computer can substitute for a human. The thought that these machines might somehow get into our heads and take over lacks credibility. Humans will always be in charge. “Alexa, turn the light on.” After all, artificial intelligence was created by man for man’s use, not the other way around. “Alexa, what are you laughing about?”

Something else I have found myself unequipped for in today’s work world is the need to work as part of a team. Whatever skills I may have acquired during my education, they were based on the expectation that I would need to be able to work independently. I had no understanding of the scope of the interaction I would one day have with people from all around the world. Communicating effectively with others is something no machine is capable of doing. We, both personally and in our careers, are in constant contact with others. An email fired off in seconds, a voice mail message, a quick text, a Skype session, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook – we always stay connected. Why just earlier today, I received a phone call from Google letting me know my business listing is expiring. How thoughtful of them. After listening to the computer message, I decided to make a call to follow up on another issue. There had been an error made in my online purchase yesterday. “Press 1 for English, 2 for French. Press 3 for…” After pushing several buttons and several hours later, my problem was resolved to my satisfaction. Connectivity is key to productivity.

With the advent of new technologies, and a more sedentary lifestyle, I’ve also found that I need to train myself to work harder at staying active. That’s where my home gym comes in handy. I can go for daily walks rain or shine. “Alexa, what’s the weather?” It’s amazing how you can check the weather without having to get up and go to the window, or worse yet, actually setting foot outside the door. With a computer desk built into my treadmill, I can stay active and work at the same time. With the treadmill keeping track of my pace and progress, I can relax and stay productive. When I’m off the treadmill, my Fitbit continues to track my steps, my calorie burning, and my sleep patterns. If I’m off my game, Fitbit will let me know.

The increased use of social media makes face to face interaction another challenging life skill that requires a concentrated effort. So I schedule daily outings to practise meeting people and socializing. Grabbing my smartphone, wallet, and keys, I hit the automatic start button and head towards town on cruise control. I want to be sure to keep my speed down and watch the lights, what with those cameras at the intersections. “You have reached your destination,” my GPS informs me. After parking itself on the main street, my SUV settles down for a short nap while I meet and greet with fellow humans running similar errands. Best to check that I’ve locked everything up and no one’s trying to break in while I’m gone, though. I look at my smart phone and log in to my home surveillance app. You can’t be too careful these days. First stop, the ATM. It never hurts to have a bit of cash on hand, though they say it’s becoming obsolete. Then I set out to buy a few groceries. After going through the self-checkout and bagging my items, I head back to my vehicle and pop open the hatch. Settling into my seat, I put in a pizza order on my phone, then head over to the self-serve gas bar to fill up. Once again, I slide in my card and interact with the mechanical cashier. A short while later, I pick up my pizza at the counter. A brief exchange with the pizza guy, and I’m all set. Errands done, walk done, socializing done. Sure, I could have accomplished most of my errands without leaving the house, but it’s good to get out and actually be with people. What a lonely world it would be if we allowed machines to take over. I can’t imagine.

With work and errands done for the day, I settle down for some “me” time. With Netflix on the big screen it saves me the trouble of heading out to the movie theatre. I reminisce about my teenage years and the nights at the drive-in. Fond memories of times spent with friends meeting up with others we knew…But it’s convenient having Netflix make suggestions for me, saving me the trouble of deciding what to watch. After finishing my pizza supper, I do the dishes. Plate and glass in the dishwasher, I settle in for some online dating. Hey, no one wants to be alone.

Whatever changes I may have experienced over my lifetime, one thing remains certain. Humans will always need humans. We won’t stand by and let machines take over our jobs and our existence. We won’t be replaced or controlled by computers and artificial intelligence. I don’t care what they dream up next. Driverless Uber cars? Delivery drones? Or perhaps 3-D printers? How about synthetic human embryos? But machines taking over humans? I don’t think so.


Ivanka Fear is a former teacher now pursuing her passion for writing. Her poems and short stories appear in Spadina Literary Review, Montreal Writes, Adelaide Literary, October Hill, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Sirens Call, The Literary Hatchet, Wellington Street Review, Aphelion, Muddy River Poetry Review, and elsewhere. You can read more about her at https://ivankafear.wixsite.com/mysite

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