Warning: Your computer may be smarter than you

Coda • GREG BEAN

There is a huge debate among some national scientists about whether we should set limits on how smart we allow computers to get so they don’t eventually kill us all and take over the world.

Although they all agree we’re a long way from Hal, the evil computer that commandeered the spaceship in that weird movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they also agree we’re on the road of technological advancement that will bring Old Hal to fruition eventually. And along the road, computers will take away even more of our jobs (they already have taken thousands), adapt even more incredibly skeevy human behaviors (which they’re already doing, which you know if you’ve talked to an automated phone system lately), and become smarter than most of us.

On that point in particular, we’ve already lost the battle. I graze through a number of blogs from time to time, and I can say with certainty that the average Spell Check programon one of the first-generation Mac Classics is smarter than about 80 percent of the people writing content for the web (example: Wikipedia).

Read through the comments on some of da Truth Squad’s site, for example, and you know where all the people who used to use CB radios ended up (“Comin’ back atcha, good buddy!”). I tried to run a few of those comments through my Spell Check program, and my computer informed me it would not complete the task, because President Obama has done away with torture, even in a good cause.

My computer is certainly smarter than your run-of-the-mill television weatherman, one of whom I heard say last week that although he couldn’t definitively say that a tornado had touched down in New Jersey, because the National Weather Service hadn’t officially classified it as a bona fide tornado, “from my meteorological perspective, it sure looked like one.” The weatherman looked like he was about 12 years old, so you have to wonder how much meteorological perspective he actually has, or even what meteorological perspective is, but nearly everybody looks like a kid to me these days, even my physician.

And my desktop computer definitely is smarter than a lot of our national politicians. I’m trying to ration my comments on a certain former governor whose name rhymes with Farrah Halen, and a certain former president whose name rhymes with Porge W. Tush, but run a few paragraphs of their twisted syntax through the language and grammar program on your computer and see what happens. Your computer will get up off the desk, march out to the garage, grab a hammer from your toolbox, march back into the house and whack you on the head, that’s what will happen.

Fortunately for me at least, computers aren’t writing newspaper columns yet (some of my critics would say that’s a darned shame), but it’s only a matter of time. One of my favorite newspaper columnists was Dave Barry, whose hilarious syndicated column was originally published in the Miami Herald. He quit writing columns a few years back, but there’s a program called AutoDave where you can type 20 pieces of information into text fields, and it will write a Dave Barry-style column for you.

They also have AutoDave Lite, where you only have to type in five responses. Where it asked for the name of a town, I typed in “Milltown, NJ.” Where it asked for something that would make someone leave that town, I typed in “Speed Trap Capital of New Jersey.” Where it asked for a plural noun, I typed in “geezers.” Where it asked for an insult, I typed in “may your fleas grow to the size of watermelons,” and where it asked for the name of one of your friends, I typed in “Adele Young,” who is one of the editors at Greater Media Newspapers and who will eventually copy-edit this column (and whose name Spell Check always wants to change to Addle, by the way).

Here’s what AutoDave came up with:

“Recently, in Milltown (motto: The Speed Trap Capital of New Jersey), residents reported an outbreak of geezers. Perhaps you think there are no geezers in Milltown. Perhaps you are an idiot.

“As the French say, au contraire (literally: may your fleas grow to the size of watermelons!). I have here in my hands a copy of an Associated Press article sent in by alert reader Adele Young, whose name can be rearranged to spell ‘NUGOY ELEDA’, although that is not my main point. My main point is that the article proves that Milltown is literally infested with geezers.”

That’s pretty funny, right? I’d tell you what AutoDave came up with after the full 20 questions, but then I might be out of a job. Nobody, to my knowledge, is working on AutoBean at the present time, but sometimes the paranoids are right: the *%$#@! ^ (rhymes with plastards) really are out to get you.

• • •

A friend sent me a news story last week which I immediately filed in my “Only in New Jersey” folder.

A few years ago, when New Jersey revamped its open records laws, it set up the New Jersey Government Records Council (GRC) to enforce the new laws. If you have a grievance against a government entity you think has been withholding records illegally, you take your complaint to the GRC for adjudication and enforcement.

Recently, however, a Superior Court judge, ruling on a complaint against the GRC filed by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG), found the GRC in violation of the state’s open records law, the very law it was created to enforce.

The dispute was over release of the email addresses of people who send complaints to the GRC, which is not the sexiest argument imaginable, but you have to question an organization that has to be ordered by the court to do the one job it was created to do.

The story I read didn’t say whether NJFOG will be allowed to recoup its legal expenses from the GRC, but that would be the icing on the cake.

Only in New Jersey, dear readers, only in New Jersey.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.