Thursday, 14 October 2021

How can I help?

Veterans of early versions of Microsoft Word will recall the animated paper-clip, which stuck its nose in every now and then, saying things like "You seem to be writing a letter, would you like to use a template?"

Word has it [not that sort of Word. duh] that the original prototype for this busybody was designed by Melinda Gates, and was called "Bob".
it was also said that in an early version of the worldwide web, the prefix WWW...
(an interesting abbreviation in that it has three times as many syllables  [/dʌbəlju: dʌbəlju: dʌbəlju:/] as the words it stands for – an indication, perhaps, of the way the early web was concerned only with text and not with sound)
...was TIM (standing for Tim's Information Machine). This smacks to me of CERNo-mythopoeia. 
The making of myths. Interesting word-bit (alias morpheme), poei-; turns up where you least expect it: from poet to erythropoietin (EPO – for the drug-cheats in the audience) – anything that involves the making of something.

I've recently been haunted by a high-tech analogue of this: the Google Assistant. At seemingly random intervals – usually when I could do without the redirection of my, at the best of times, butterfly-like focus – it cuts in and says "Hi (painfully informal, and over-familiar, I feel) How can I help?"

My first instinct was to say "You can help by keeping the heck out of my face", but I'm sure this would get us nowhere, possibly prompting more specific irrelevant question like "Would you like to know the lead in Shrek" (they set a lot of store by vowel sounds, these speech recognition doofers). Then I thought (a more mature response): There must be a setting; switch it off.

But the people at Google seem to have thought I might do this, and have implemented some byzantine system of nested dependencies, with the effect that whenever I switch it off some other setting automagically switches it back on.
<rant type="cyber-paranoid">
Besides, call me old-fashioned but I've already signed over much of my personal data to the tech giants, and I'm blowed if I'll add bio-metrics to the damage. For this reason I'm not letting them get their hands on my voice-print; and for the same reason I haven't accepted the siren requests that I should "Make my life so much easier" by using a face-scan or a fingerprint to open my phone...

And while we're on the subject, whenever I see a TV cop opening a phone by thrusting it in the face of a resistant perp, I think "Surely you can stymie the facial recognition software by girning."

...My face-scan isn't going to fly off into the cloud somewhere... (Unless... oh gawd, Don't tell me... It's there already, isn't it?) Well anyway I'm not going to knowingly hold the door open for the identity thieves by saying "This is my face and Google can do what it likes with it".


And I'll close with a not entirely irrelevant speculation about a name that features in a G&S operetta based on confused identities. In HMS Pinafore the nurse sings

I'm called Little Buttercup
Dear Little Buttercup
Though I could never tell why

The last line struck me when I first heard it as a rather pointless non sequitur, whose only justification was to provide a rhyme for "Little Buttercup I" (itself a bare-faced  makeweight). But I saw it in a  painfully chaste convent school production, which certainly wouldn't have added the inviting (and probable – given Gilbert's obsession with all things mammary...

(Another case: In Iolanthe Strephon sings 

In babyhood upon her lap I lay
With infant food she moistened my clay
Had she withheld the succour she supplied...

And the chorus have a nudge-nudge-wink-wink moment, hearing "sucker".

...) bit of stage-business, hitching up her ample bosom: Buttercup the cow, milk, wet-nurse – geddit?

Tha'sall. Time I prepared for tonight's rehearsal.




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