Saturday, October 17, 2009

The opposite of AI

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is the study of intelligent machines: an important field of computer sciences. But what should be the term for the opposite study? As tempting as it may be, Natural Stupidity is not the right term; Mechanical Humanity (MH) describes it much better.

MH is the very first thing you need to learn, before starting to deal with the hoards of not so intelligent human-shaped machines (for the sake of simplicity, lets call them officials) who will accompany you throughout the entire process.

Each official seems to be familiar with some actions that cannot be changed under any circumstances. And just like in double jeopardy, once a step is finished it can’t be changed, regardless of the mistakes made. The process must move on.

It all starts when you apply for THE Interview. If you are not familiar with the process, it goes like this. First you pay lots of money, then you fill in lots of form, then you bring all kind of evidence to prove who you are, and pay again more money. Then you fill in some more forms to become qualified for an hour telephone interview at $5 a minute to verify that you have spelled your name correctly and that you are really who you think you are. At the end of the $300 you are allocated a slot to come for the interview.

Official: “Sir, your interview will take place on Wednesday in 3 months time
(he gave an actual date), anytime between 8:30am and 1pm.”

Me: “But Wednesday mornings are not good for me, can we do it in the
afternoon, or any other day?”

Official: “Sir, this is the time allocated
to you.”

Me: “But it’s three months ahead, surely you can find another

Official: “Sir, you don’t understand. This is the time allocated to you. If you don’t take this slot, your application will not be processed. This is your choice, Sir.”

So, as you might have guessed, given the choice, I decided to take the interview, and three month later I found myself standing in a two-hour queue, only to face an official who handed back to me my own forms and sent me to pay at the cashier. I returned with the forms and the receipt to a second official, who interviewed me for a whole 2 minutes and sent me back to the cashier for another payment. I came back to him, this time with the forms, second payment slip and my passport, which he would sign and send back to me, but not before I queued and paid the courier company to deliver to my home the passports and the paperwork I was holding.

And yet, despite the attention to details (or maybe because of them), they made a mistake. My passport and the documents attached disagreed on the dates of my visa, which would have made me illegal the day after I entered the US. So I called again, and after 20 minutes at $5 a minutes it became clear that this is what the consular had decided, and that there was no way to discuss, to find the reason, or to appeal.

It was a few weeks and many thousand of dollars paid to lawyers that resolved this seemingly simple mistake.

More than any other first-world system, the US seems to favour bureaucracy running by hand-died non-thinkers who follow orders. I am not sure why this is, but I am sure that in a world where machines become more and more intelligent, mechanical humans are obsolete and should be replaced by machines. The faster it happens in the US, the slower the shift of power from the US to Asia will be. At the moment, we only seem to expedite this process.

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