Manila – In the world we live in today, checkboxes have become part of our reality. Chances are, if you’re not a human being, you’re probably a machine, and these ubiquitous checkboxes possess the power to do the vetting for us.
They have become regular hurdles prior to doing an online transaction or completing a registration form in answer to questions about our being human. This has become pure madness. After asking about my birthdate, birthplace, address, contact numbers and occupation, comes the final obstacle: marking the “I am not a robot” checkbox.
My impression of a robot is that it doesn’t have a birthday, address, phone number, etc., so if I have supplied my vital information that is standard for a human being, why would I be asked at the last step if I’m a robot? What if I were, indeed, a robot?
But I’m not yet done. There’s this step that requires me to type a distorted set of characters into a box to determine if I am a human who can read and decipher. This is the CAPTCHA which stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.”
Since mathematician Alan Turing is mentioned in the acronym, it brings to mind his proposed test to determine if computers can think, and with that, he made history for computers and AI or artificial intelligence.
I watched “The Imitation Game” which depicted Turing’s life, struggles and achievements. It is among the several films that explain why we are in this world today. But other so-called futuristic movies don’t offer explanations. They just mirror the world we are in. It’s dystopian.
“Blade Runner,” “The Terminator,” “The Matrix,” “Artificial Intelligence” and “Wall-E” tell us about—as the term implies—the future and what it looks like. But with the way technology is creeping in, we are already in that future.
We are in this future with this technology that can also attack us and take down the websites we visit, the banks we keep our money in and the governments that are supposed to take care of our countries.
In the 1990s, when information technology and computers were still being introduced in homes and workplaces, I remember the adage about internet anonymity that said, "on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog," an idea that was a caption to a cartoon illustrated by Peter Steiner published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993.
You can’t just be a dog, or anyone you want to be these days because you can also be a robot. Well, I’m not. I’m doing grad school and with my reality of always doing work and life stuff simultaneously, this is the time that, perhaps, I might need a robot to assist me in my research and writing, including my thesis.
I can ask the AI system ChatGPT or Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer that can compute, play music, videos and games, answer test questions, and practically mimic what every human can do, including writing a thesis.
Add to that the Bing AI chatbot that can chat with you, except, as per the first few humans who have encountered it, it makes you uncomfortable with its strange and overbearing tone during conversations. As of this writing, there’s another AI chatbot coming up, named Bard.
But no, I’m not a robot and these changes we’re witnessing in computers, no matter how dramatic, I would say are not paradise. It’s creepy and terrifying.
Diana G. Mendoza is a longtime journalist based in Manila. She is currently working as a desk editor for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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