Gee…Mail

We often think of ourselves as unique and different from other living beings and mostly for the wrong reasons. We are not the only animal capable of compassion and empathy. We are not the only animal capable of living in organized societies. We are not the only animal capable of trickery, deceit or betrayal.

But we do have one remarkable trait which I think is unique to humans. Other animals use sounds and gestures. to communicate, but no other living being has ever invented symbols representing sounds, no other animal has organized those sounds into words and phrases to express thoughts and describe events.No other animal has invented writing and created a literature.

We should not give up this capability out of mental laziness and rely on primitive catch phrases to express ourselves.

But Google has a new idea about all that.

I recently noticed that my Gmail has taken it upon itself to offer me “one click” answers to my email. Has Big Brother arrived, and is he looking over my shoulder? Not quite. No human being is reading my mail. It is only an Artificial Intelligence Device, a sort of Mr. Robot who has been programmed to (timidly ) propose a choice of three bland replies like

1.How interesting!
2.Thanks for letting me know.
3.I did not know that.

Robot Man does not presume to reply himself but is giving me a chance to pick the reply I like best. I can see the usefulness of such features in business situations. Pre-built phrases or types of responses for often asked questions are a useful shortcut. When people are away from their desks or on vacation they can leave prepared set responses to routine queries.

But today I am more interested in personal email interchanges between friends and regular correspondents. In such situations, if the question is a simple one (How are you feeling? or Are you back at work?) you don’t need the help of Mr. Robot to respond. Even if he suggests what I would have said, it feels rather creepy.

And if it is a complicated response, you definitely want to do your own answering. Devices like “Smart Reply” have been made human-sounding and on-topic, but how will they deal with “What is your opinion of this film?” “What do you think of the latest book? ” There are just no pre- set answers to such questions.

I do love the way Mr. Robot takes all the spam out of my inbox, but for replying to personal emails, I think I’ll handle that myself.

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