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'Elementary, My Dear Watson!'
Okay, so Watson the Computer wins on Jeopardy and the next thing you know, the Weird Wide Web is full of doomsday predictions about the age of the machine being upon us and other such malarkey.
Let us pause to reflect.
For one thing, the age of the machine has been upon us for a good long time, beginning with the first time man decided to stop doing his calculations on fingers and toes -- his own and, in cases involving sums greater than 20, other people’s (“Mom! I need to know the answer to 12 times 12! Could you round up the neighbors?”) and invented the Sumerican abacus back around 2500 BC.
“What do you have there?”
“What does it do?”
“Well, using these columns in the right order you can figure out pretty much any sum you want without bringing in the neighbors’ extremeties.”
“Oh, come on. No more counting on fingers and toes?”
“Nope. Just a few clicks and you’ll have your answer.”
“Right. And I’m expected to believe that. I suppose you’re also going to enter it in Jeopardy.”
Of course, it didn’t work out that way because Alex Trebek had not yet been born. However, I do believe this was when man took his first tentative step toward a future in which a computer would win a game show.
Which does not trouble me in the slightest. Let’s look at the nature of the game. All it asks for (with the answer in the form of a question) is retrieval of information. The board says “Oct. 14, 1066” and you answer “When was the Battle of Hastings?” Assuming you know.
Well, that’s all a computer does. It answers long strings of yes-or-no questions in order to complete a task, such as hooking up Oct. 14, 1066 with the Battle of Hastings. The thing is, it does all that in a nanosecond, which unnerves some people. Game show contestants, for example.
But a computer can’t reason. It can’t apply perspective of its own. It can’t speculate on what might have happened had the English won (which -- who knows? -- might be the case had not King Harold supposedly taken a Norman arrow to the eye, thus ruining his entire day by making him dead.)
Forget Watson. You want to worry about a machine in a game? Worry about Monopoly Live, a digitized version of the game in which a computer in the center of the board gives directions and keeps the digital bank. No more dice or paper money. And for that matter, no more deeds, or Chance and Community Chest cards. The whole thing is digital, aimed at a generation of players who were raised in a digital world (and because of it, can’t make change to save their lives).
This means no more stashing money under the board for emergencies. No more kitty in the middle of the board for whomever lands on Free Parking. No more creatively miscounting your move to avoid paying rent on Boardwalk when your sister owns it.
Well, I am having none of it. I want my Monopoly with dice and cards, paper money and cheating, the way it was intended.
As far as I am concerned, any attempt to digitize it puts us – must I say it? – in Jeopardy.
© 2011 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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