In Part 14 of this series, the Computer Chronicles first discussed the subject of “expert systems.” This referred to computer knowledge bases that purported to replicate a human’s expertise in a particular field. This next Chronicles episode revisits the idea of expert systems as part of a broader discussion of artificial intelligence. The Link Between the Mechanical World and Abstract Concepts Herbert Lechner is back as Stewart Cheifet’s co-host for this episode.
When Apple released the Macintosh–later known as the Macintosh 128K–in January 1984, its main selling point was the graphical user interface (GUI). Although the original Macintosh operating system’s GUI was largely based on what Apple deployed on the Lisa a year earlier, the company believed the new machine’s lower price point would make the interface more accessible to a larger audience. Of course, the Macintosh was not exactly cheap, even by 1984 personal computer standards.
In a recent essay for the socialist journal Current Affairs, Matthew James Seidel recounted a story from 2013 where “delivery drivers came up with an unexpected way to prevent robots from taking their jobs. They beat the robots with baseball bats and stabbed them in their ‘faces.'” Seidel quipped that “[s]ome robots got off easy; they were merely abducted and shut away in basements.” The intellectual–and sometimes physical–battle over the use of robots to replace human labor was the subject of a late 1983 episode of The Computer Chronicles.
Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review of the 1983 film WarGames, “Computers only do what they are programmed to do, and they will follow their programs to illogical conclusions.” In the movie, Matthew Broderick played a teenage hacker who managed to remotely access the United States missile defense system and initiate a “Global Thermonuclear War” scenario that he mistakes for a computer game. Ultimately, Ebert said the film’s message was, “Sooner or later, one of these self-satisfied, sublimely confident thinking machines is going to blow us all off the face of the planet.