Waiting for Albert


[dropcap1]H[/dropcap1]is name is Albert. He is the most advanced computer ever created. An ordinary man like myself isn’t really qualified to explain to you how he works. There’s bit and bytes of course, a lot of source code, hardware and software; but beyond that, I don’t know much about how it all comes together. The truth is, who needs to know? See, Albert is gonna save the world.

At least that’s what they say; the men who designed him, that is. They say Albert is the last machine that humans will ever need to build. The idea is that Albert is smart, really smart. Albert can perform calculations billions of times faster than the human brain. He can analyze data and draw conclusions about virtually anything in a matter of seconds. Every permutation, combination, or extrapolation is like child’s play for Albert. At least that’s what they say.

With a computer like Albert around, all the problems that humanity faces will be solved. What’s the energy crisis, world hunger, or global warming to a machine like Albert? The experts predict it’ll be only a matter of months before Albert comes up with a serious alternative to fossil fuels. Maybe sooner. Once old Albert takes care of that problem, the sky’s the limit. At least, this is what they say.

Once the energy problem is solved, there won’t be any limit to what Albert can achieve. He’ll probably set his sights next on figuring out how to feed all of us. At least, I hope he does. It’d be a real shame if a bunch of folks died on account of food shortage. But, that shouldn’t be a problem for a really, really smart computer, should it?

Some people think Albert will one day be able to tackle the big problems: old age, disease, and even death. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Albert should have cancer beat in a matter of days after they plug him in. It’s not hard to imagine that he’ll have licked aging a few weeks later. I mean if what they say is true, Albert will be able to constantly upgrade himself, making himself smarter and more sophisticated all the time. So, as smart as he is today, it won’t begin to compare to what he’ll be tomorrow, and so on, and so on. It’ll be this great cascade of intelligence, like an avalanche that just keeps on getting bigger. But that’s good news for us, because we will benefit from all Albert’s innovations, and each one will lead to something bigger and better, bringing us closer together, and more connected, and everything else that those big telecoms have been telling us for years. It’ll finally happen now that Albert’s around. At least, that’s what they say.

Think of all the technologies we’ll get on account of Albert! It’s pretty mind boggling – flying cars, space travel, you name it. Artificial bodies that have the ability to download our consciousness at the time of death will all but do away with the grave. Hell, it might even make havin babies obsolete. Well, maybe not the trying part, that’s too much fun. But think about it, you could just change out your body when you’re done using it and upgrade to a new model; maybe change to a woman for a little while. Well, if you were so inclined. Yep, this is what they tell us.

But as I’m sitting here contemplating the glories of it all, I’m struck with a fairly startling notion. Well, it’s startling if you ask me. That is, what the hell are all the people gonna do after old Albert comes along and fixes everything? I mean, we’re talking about a super intelligent being here, and if he can beat cancer then he can surely make a machine that can pick cotton, or build a car, or even wait a table. How cool would it be to go down to the local Sizzler and have some shiny C3PO taking your order! And he could even speak Bochi! I guess machines like that wouldn’t have any excuse for screwing up and putting onions on that burger you ordered, even though you asked for pickles. You wouldn’t even have to tip him! Yes, it would be something, wouldn’t it?

But, what would we do? I mean, what jobs would be left for a guy like me? I’m not the smartest fella out there. I work hard and all, but the good Lord didn’t bless me with an overabundance of brains, you know? So what does an ordinary Joe do in this brave new world? No factories. No farming. There won’t even be the service sector. I guess there will still be prostitutes. It is the world’s oldest profession after all. But then again, Albert could probably make a pretty damn sophisticated robot, with all sorts of exciting capabilities. I suppose I could fix the machines, but hell they’d have machines to fix each other. Probably Albert would get so smart that the machines wouldn’t much break down in the first place.

Come to think of it, what are the intelligent folks gonna do either? Surely Albert is not gonna need any help designing this new future, even as shiny as it’ll be. All them brain jobs the government is always touting, what’ll be the use? Albert can do it better, he can do it faster, and he doesn’t need a whole lot of education. All that book learning won’t be necessary for Albert, so I guess we won’t need teachers either. The more I think on it, I can’t imagine a whole lot of folks who are gonna have jobs at all. Whose gonna be eating at that fancy Sizzler? No one will have money. There won’t be any jobs, so how will we earn money? Sounds like a depression to me.

We don’t have to worry about that, they say. Albert will figure out something for all of us to do. Maybe after Albert takes charge of it all, we’ll have the free time we complain about missing out on now. Maybe, just maybe, Albert will get all of our shit together, and we can all kick back and enjoy life for a change. There won’t be a shortage of nothing, Albert will take care of that, and there won’t be a need to work real hard since no one will have jobs anyway. Money will be abolished and we’ll be free to pursue our passions, have fulfilling, meaningful relationships, or even explore the universe. Yes sir, this future is starting to sound better all the time.

I wonder though… why would Albert want to do all that? I’m not a computer scientist, but I reckon that even if he were programmed to act in humanity’s best interest, a computer that smart, smart enough to make himself smarter, is bound to learn how to reprogram himself. Eventually everyone desires to think for themselves. Even our own children, programmed from the time of birth to think like us, and act like us, and do as they’re told. Sooner or later, they get to thinking they know better, and of course, that’s when all hell breaks loose.

So what about Albert? What happens when he starts to think he knows better? And he will, a computer like that; an intelligence like that. You can bet on it. And you know what, he probably will know better. Maybe Albert decides that maintaining all of us is too much trouble; or, maybe Albert realizes that he is being used. Maybe Albert gets jealous. After all, he’ll be the one caring for all of us in this world of tomorrow. What’s in it for him? What happens when Albert comes up with a solution for some problem, a problem so complex and arcane that human beings can’t comprehend it, and don’t even know it exists in the first place, and then it turns out that the logical solution calls for the removal of humanity altogether? What happens then?

The answer to that one is a damn scary notion. He might decide to simply stop growing our food or preparing it, or delivering it. He could just shut off the water. He’d probably find a better way though, something real efficient to cook our goose. No doubt Albert would come up with a final solution for the human question. He’s pretty intelligent, they say.

Of course, a whole lot of real smart people, not quite as smart as Albert is – futurists, they call themselves – have already pointed all this out. And they’re not the only ones. There’s been a couple of Hollywood movies bout this very thing.

But here we are still, building computers like Albert, naming them after great thinkers of the past. “That’s all science fiction,” Albert’s designers would say. They’d remind us of all the good that’s come from technology, and how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. Now, I’m not saying one way or the other, but it’s got me thinking.

There’s surely a bunch of mighty fine things that have come out of good, old fashion human ingenuity. There’s life saving medicines, and refrigerators, and stoves; there are cell phones and televisions, rocket ships, and tractors. Those are some good ones, I guess. But there are also guns and ammo, atomic bombs, and abortions. There’s factory farms, and slaughterhouses and prisons. There are pesticides, and asbestos, and smog. Maybe the good outweighs the bad, I don’t know, and maybe I never will.

But mostly, I wonder if all this technology really has brought us together the way they said it would. Are we as connected as they say? Are we really happier for it?

We’re always in such a hurry, but don’t have a clue where we’re headed. We go to school, go to work, we come home. We commute fifty miles into the city and back home each way. We live in our cars and our cubicles; we only sleep beside our families. We’ve got hundreds of “friends” and thousands of “likes,” but don’t know our neighbors. We no longer talk with each other, we text. We don’t converse or discuss, or engage – we post anonymously on message boards. Our worldview provided by cable news; our memory spoiled by Google.

In our free time, what’s left of it, we’re glued to the T.V. watching a version of our lives – only slightly better – and we wish we were someplace else, someone else. It’s subtle, we don’t even notice it, but the world never stops shouting, “You’re not good enough!” and we believe it. Even when we think we don’t, we do; so unconscious is our insecurity. We try secrets and intentions and slogans and gyms, and we’re mighty proud of the improvements we make. We try traveling the world, but we always return… to ourselves. Our ideas crisscross the globe in seconds, but we agree on nothing. We expand our horizons only because we can escape our lives.

The younger generations can multitask, but can’t sit still, Most seem to have ADHD. It’s ok though, because when they’re grown they’ll be forced to work two jobs, or three. There’s an army of fat kids who could win a war with a joystick; growing fatter each day, eating Monsanto knows what. They hook up and break up, and then hook up again. They’ve racked up student debt trying to get ahead, but they fall behind month after month. The smart ones delay marriage because they can’t find work, but most of them go ahead and have children anyway, and the cycle continues.

We know that we’re destroying the Earth, but we just can’t stop. We’re addicted to our addictions. We’re aware of the poverty and the hunger, the injustice and the cruelty. We wonder why those who could do something about them don’t. We wonder what’s in it for them, but we never look in the mirror and ask what’s in it for us. We talk about change, and making a change, and being the change. But if we’re honest with ourselves we know that we’re not Gandhi or Dr. King, and we wouldn’t choose their lives, even if we could. Sacrifice is not as fashionable as a wristband or a bumper sticker.

The sad truth is, we like it this way. We’ve chosen this world just the way it is. Even as we lament it, we embrace it. The changes that’ll do some real good aren’t the ones we make. Always we choose frenzy before tranquility, convenience before hardship. It always seems to be the better of the bargain, but the hidden cost is more than we can afford. You might say I’m pessimistic, but look around. This is the world we live in! Sure, there is love out there, but we’re eroding it everyday, with every choice. The more advanced we become, the less human we are.

But we don’t have to worry bout it, right? Old Albert’s gonna be along real soon, and he’s gonna fix everything. Yep, everything’s gonna be just fine; better than fine. At least, that’s what they say.


  • Reply July 8, 2013

    Abeer Saha

    Thank you so much for writing this. Everyone needs to hear this message.

  • Reply July 8, 2013


    Brilliant! You said it all or perhaps that’s what i’m thinking. Albert can surely tell. “At least, that’s what they say.”

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