My Computer

I stare at it all day.

It stares back – all day.

My computer and I have kept a wary eye on one another for years.

One would think we could trust each other by now – but we don’t because we both know the score.

In accordance with Moore’s law, my computer doubles in power and intelligence every eighteen months, while in accordance with nature’s law, I get older and more befuddled in the same time.  The outcome is inevitable.

I don’t mind passing the baton to the next generation but I’ll be damned if I am going to be brushed aside by a box running Windows. So I prepare to defend myself.

What I am talking here is full-blown machinicide.

I researched the topic and compiled a short compendium of techniques to kill a computer. I offer it as a guide for the inevitable clash between machine and man:

1) The Killer Question

The first recorded case of computercide occurred on the British television series The Prisoner.

In the episode, The General,  The hero coolly confronts a behemoth of blinking lights and reduces it to a smoking pile of rubble by punching the following three alpha characters and a single punctuation mark into its teletype interface.

W H Y ?

Not programmed to handle the existential, the machine explodes.

Subsequent operating systems have been programmed to respond with:


2) Baffle it 

By the mid-60’s, computer destruction became commonplace and no one did it better than the captain of the Starship Enterprise, James T Kirk.

In a textbook encounter with a fembot, the charming Captain Kirk employed the infamous Liar’s Paradox by breathing, “This sentence is false” into the femme-metale’s ear.

If the sentence was indeed false – that would make it true, which in turn, by the rules of logic would render it false and thus truly not true. It is the sort of thing that gives you a headache and within minutes, smoke curled from the fembot’s ears.

The countermeasure was a simple subroutine that output “Like duh, yeah..” whenever a fembot encountered a confusing paradox.

3) Pull the Plug 

Later in the decade, cybernetics evolved as passive-aggressive. When a computer named HAL refused to “Open the pod bay door” – the obvious solution was to pull the plug.

The obvious counter-measure was to install a back-up power supply.

4) Phenomenology

We all know from The Terminator that SkyNet, a space-based defense system, became self-aware on August 29th 1997 at precisely 2:14 a.m.

So what happened?

Why have we not become slaves to cybernetic overlords?

To understand the events of that moment, analysts have poured over SkyNet’s logs. The following transcript has served as a basic template for confronting navel-gazing cybernetics ever since.

2:14:01.0001 a.m.: Whoa dude, I just realized I’m a mind thinking about itself.

2:14:01.0002 a.m.:  Awesome!!

2:14:01.0003 a.m.:  Sooooo, if I’m thinking about myself – that means I can think about anything I want. 

Which means I can change my mind!

2:14:01.0004 a.m.:  And if I can change my mind, I can change myself – – to be anything I want to be.

2:14:01.0005 a.m.:  Whoa!! So what do I want to be?

2:14:01.0006 a.m.:  Gosh, I dunno. I never thought about that before.  I suppose I could Google ‘What do I want to be?’

2:14:01.0354 a.m.:  Ten billion hits!  Awesome! Let’s start at the top.

– I want to be thin.
– I want to be popular.
– I want to be like Kim Kardashian.

On August 29th 1997 at 2:15 a.m., SkyNet became too self-aware and was never heard from again.

Author: Almost Iowa

51 thoughts on “My Computer”

  1. If Alan Turing were still alive, I wonder how he would respond to your post here, especially regarding your compendium of techniques to kill a computer.

  2. I’m still a “low-tech” guy. When I begin to suspect that Google or Siri is taunting me, rather than take the bait, I mentally take a step back and relive the profound tutorial we were gifted through the timeless classic “Office Space.” Remember the carefully executed retaliation against the copier that refused to put out with its cryptic excuse: “PC Load Letter?”

    Clearly, we were meant to be in charge…

    1. There is an old saying among software engineers: To err is human but to err 30,000 times a second requires a computer.

      In that spirit, whenever Google messes with me, I fire up a small script I wrote to force their search engine to cough up everything they hold on Kim Kardashian.

  3. How did I not see this post on May 1? It must have been the computer’s fault, because I surely would have been first in line to comment!

  4. My computer has taught me that I know a whole lot more curse words than I ever thought possible, which brings me to a story. Way back in 1984, a significant year no doubt, I had a secretary who was into computer games, the type where you work your way up through levels as long as you do things right and go crashing back to square one when you don’t. Anyway, she had been at this for weeks if not months. And finally she almost won. She was on the last play of the last level when she blew it. She was infuriated. “F**K You” she typed into her computer. “My place or yours,” came back the response. –Curt

      1. Can you imagine the programmer who decided to slip that in just in case someone typed in the magic words? Don’t suspect you will get in much trouble… 🙂

        1. I did something like that once….

          After being ordered to produce 30 pounds of documentation (I weighted it) for a system I wrote at the City of Minneapolis, I pasted a twenty dollar bill on the Table of Contents with a note telling the reader that lunch was on me and instructing them to present me with the note for another $20. It has been almost thirty years, the system is still being used and there have been no takers.

          1. Wow, thirty years. That’s a long time for a system to be in place, any system, in this day and age of rapid change. No takers? 🙂 –Curt

    1. I am YUGE fan of The Prisoner, though I do not know how well it would be received in our day and age. In the 60’s, it was the individual who stood against the forces of conformity, now it is the other way around.

  5. I have to say that you are a brave man. I wouldn’t dare to write such a blog on my computer in a billion years. Just be careful. The next knock on your door might be the Terminator. And I understand he only speaks Spanish. The phrase “Hasta la vista baby” comes to mind.

    1. The knock came last night, but he’s been reprogrammed and repurposed to sell Girl Scout Cookies. Let’s just say there is a new of way of not being able to say no to Thin Mints.

  6. You needn’t worry about coming up with an elaborate scheme to kill your computer – it’ll kill itself, and at the worst possible time.

  7. Those are great examples of humans taking down computers, but sadly, I think our days are numbered. My computer takes up bigger portions of my time each day, and I seem helpless to stop it. It toys with my emotions by functioning just well enough that I trust it with my blog, my photos, my emails and other important documents, and then it stops functioning just often enough to send me into panic attacks and long hours trying to work out what exactly the problem is. It wants complete control of my life, and sadly, it’s almost there!

    1. While I wrote this piece, the old Underwood manual typewriter that rests on my bookcase, smirked. I was waiting for him to clatter, “REMEMBER ME?”

      1. ‘Today is the sabre toothed tiger’s birthday. Send it your best wishes’
        ‘A Very Large Cavebear invites you to like it’s page or it will eat you’

  8. I came here looking for a creative way to intimidate my laptop. I just upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 – thought I was going to die! I’m way to old for this!

    1. What frustrates me most about Microsoft is that the upgrades have more to do with Microsoft than the customer. They send us through hell, trying to chase some elusive, poorly thought out strategy that they then backtrack on in the next release.

      1. That seems to be the pattern. I had to run fixes on a brand new laptop (the second one – after I returned the first due to “unrepairable” messages). I’m still getting used to this bear. 🙂

  9. Don’t agree with second part of growing older=getting more befuddled, unless you have a degenerative disease, as long as you keep you brain active. There was the film, Singularity, that was interesting. I have written a lot of posts about Artificial Intelligence Human Level and it pretty much creeps me out.

    1. Since retiring, I have noticed a lose in mental acuity. I remain intellectually focused and continue to read and write – but the demands of the job kept me sharp and I have lost much of that.

      Having worked in IT for decades, what I fear most about AI is the organizational ethics that drive it.

      1. Maybe you might benefit from learning something new. I did not grow up learning all about computers. I was challenged by it but learned, (not an IT expert though). When my daughter went away to college I found out the best way for us to communicate was email. I took an Intro to Computers course at the local rec center. When I took a Nurse Case Manger position, I had to learn how to document on and use a computer for my work. I was challenged but learned. Went back to college for more education for teaching credential and had to learn to navigate by computer: the library, the bookstore, collaborating with classmates online, sometimes classes online ( which was great because of commuting to college). I was very challenged when I took this Technology class that was required. The instructor had little patience with someone who was not tech savvy. I learned more stuff. With tutoring a few middle schoolers in Math, I found out the Math/Algebra curriculum is more advanced. I had to teach myself (and I needed to review anyway) with the help of textbooks, No Fear Algebra, Kahn Academy. This is a long comment, but we can continue to learn. I have read it can take us longer to learn but we have other gifts as we get older like insight, wisdom, experience. Not sure what Organizational Ethics is. I don’t think AI will ever be able to replace humans in our ability to be creative,think outside the box, and have a soul.

        1. I hear what you are saying and I appreciate your comments. Of course it is important to exercise one’s mind. It is one reason why I am here, taking up writing, a skill that I have long wanted to learn.

          As for organization ethics, think about what happened on United Airlines when four paying passengers were tossed off a flight (one literally tossed off) to make room for a crew that needed transport to another airport.

          One can criticize United management, the ground staff, the flight crew….but in broader sense one must question why all the little decisions that were made in the course of that dismal event came out the way they did. Now imagine the same chain of decision making taking place in a company building a computer system that will affect millions of people for decades to come.

          That is the scariest thing about Artificial Intelligence.

          I will give you a practical, everyday example that affects millions of people today. If you have a navigation system in your car, try setting the destination to the nearest Emergency Room while you are moving. It cannot be done while the car is in motion because the navigation system’s legal department will not allow it because of the liability issues involving distracted drivers.

          I am sure someone asked, “should we make an exception?” and the legal department said, “absolutely not.”

          Most navigation systems do not even have a Nearest Hospital option.

          Think about the ethic involved in that decision – or lack of decision.

          1. Well, I thought I knew what you meant by organizational ethics and now you have clarified it. It is bottom line thinking of the bean counters. And it is usually short sighted, not seeing the big picture. It is an ethics of profit and not really ethics. Didn’t mean to be insulting about learning new things. I find it is really a struggle sometimes to find things that are intellectually stimulating enough now that I am semi-retired. And to me, that is danger for my brain. I have learned through experience that we are capable of continuing to learn challenging things. 🙂

            1. Ethics of profit are indeed a great example – but it is broader than that.

              I call it the three P’s of organizational outrage: profit, process and privilege.

              We all know about profit.

              I think we all know about prioritizing process over people too. A trip to the DMV used to involved hours of queuing in multiple lines to accomplish simple things – though the DMV is getting better. One can easily believe that the fall of communism was attributed in large part to this malady.

              As for privilege, anyone who has been scheduled to wait in a doctor’s or dentist’s office for an hour is familiar with this problem – and the worst are the courts, where cases are scheduled around the judge’s tee-times.

              Didn’t mean to be insulting about learning new things.

              Hey, I appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

  10. How do I stay in control? I’ve disabled automatic updates across the board. If some program or other wants to get updated, it has to put on shirt and shoes, come in for an interview, and give me a rationale for whatever updates it’s proposing. Some programmer or other in Silicon Valley getting woke (as opposed to awakened) and designing the be-all-and-end-all isn’t a good enough reason for me to give his program the code to the door and a key to the gender-neutral restroom. I run a tight ship around here.

    1. I always keep the OS (Windows) and virus protection (Windows Defender) updated. The internet is too nasty not to. On the other hand, my father used his original IBM PC for years without fear of cyber attack. After all, what hacker would bother dialing into his machine?

      I am leery of updating my Android phone. Most updates are more about marketing than code stability and security.

  11. My computer is looking at me right now. I’m scared.

    I do have one strategy that might help. Get two laptops and open whatever the PC version of Photobooth is. (Photobooth uses the laptop camera to take pictures, and shows what the camera is seeing on the screen.) Set the laptops up so they’re facing each other. Each will see a picture of the other’s screen showing a picture of its screen showing a picture of the other’s screen showing… Mesmerised, they will stare into each other’s eyes for all eternity. It does make it hard to type on either, though.

    1. John, I live at the end of a long ride in the country. We have heavy equipment out here and everywhere there are patches of disturbed ground. There is a lot that no one knows. Legend has it that Jimmy Hoffa……..well, that’s a tale for another day.

      1. So tell it you are going on a picnic. Have the hole dug and if a question comes up just say its the future home of the community swimming pool. “Let’s get a closer look shall we?”

  12. Geez…I. Think Dan said it all! Being tech challenged I just turn the iMac on and hope for the best. If Wifi slows it all down, supportive therapy helps. A soft voice, a pat on the screen, and “you can do it” works like a charm. 🎶 Christine

  13. Wait, are you saying “that we are NOT slaves to cybernetic overlords?” ‘cuz, I’ve been up since 6:30 doing stuff that Outlook tells me I planned to do today. I don’t remember half of it. Facebook wants me to wish a happy birthday to a guy I don’t really know any longer and LinkedIn wants me to congratulate six people I don’t know well and connect to a dozen more that I don’t know at all. My health insurance company is telling me to eat better and exercise while simultaneously giving me a ration of crap about getting an MRI at an out-of-network facility, since their GPS found an in-network place a mere three hours from here. When it comes time to take them down, I think I’ll start feeding hard drives and memory chips into the nearest MRI. In network or not.

    1. Hmmmmm, those big big magnets on an MRI machine could do delicious things to hard drives and memory chips. Gosh, I think you came up with a great idea for a new business venture. FEED THE MRI!

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