Monday, 5 October 2009
My Retirement Plan
I've decided that I'd better plan for my retirement. After all, I'm not getting any younger, and the way things are going, with all the pension funds disappearing and legislation to increase the age of retirement, my generation will probably have to work until we're all into 3 figures.
I could give up work, but sadly the retired and unemployed eat just as much as the working, so I'll need to find an alternative income. I've looked into several options:
1. Become a professional layabout. Benefits aren't exactly lavish, and they expect you to at least pretend you're looking for work. In fact, the workshy spend so much of their time going for interviews, courses and so on that they'd be better off getting a job. None of this seems very compatible with spending my time on a beach in Barbados.
2. Blackmail. I've been wondering how much money I can extort. There might be plenty of people in blogland who would pay me good money not to post ever again. If there aren't, just wait until I turn this blog into "Brian's Song and Dance Showcase", featuring daily videos with excrutiating performances by yours truly. Let's put it this way: I can't dance to save my life, and my singing is worse. Again, this seems like a lot of effort to go to not to work, and I'd probably injure myself in the process.
3. Computerisation. Program a computer to do my work and blog whilst I'm off somewhere sipping something cool and intoxicating.
Option 3 is clearly the best of the bunch. The only question is: Is it feasible with today's technology? Could a mere computer really be good enough to replace me?
British mathematician Alan Turing was a pioneer in the theory of computers in the 1940s and 50s. He managed to come up with various abstract models and rules which were not directly related to the particular technology of the time, but which were general enough to hopefully apply to any computer that could possibly be built.
Amongst other things he is famous for The Turing Test, which is one answer to the question of how to measure computer intelligence. There are two rooms, one of which contains a computer, and another contains a human. The tester can send written questions into each room, and receive written answers back, and he has to see if he can work out which is the computer, and which is the human. If he can't tell them apart, then the computer must be just as intelligent as the human being.
Obviously, if I could get hold of a computer that had passed the Turing Test, then the only problem remaining would be which plane to get on. Sadly, no-one has managed to program a computer to do this, despite a lot of attempts.
I'm not going to give up hope though. I don't need a computer that can pass for an intelligent human being in some lab test. My requirements are a lot simpler - I just need one that can be programmed to write a bit of software now and then, answer the odd email and write the odd blog post. The computer will pass the BOV test so long as no-one realises that I'm actually stretched out by some Caribbean pool.
What's more, all the technology I require already exists. For writing blogs, there is the buzzword generator. This produces random incomprehensible phrases of the sort that my readers are well used to.
For email, there is something called the "vacation message", or "out of office assistant". Because eloquence isn't really my thing, I just need to set that to give replies like "That's great Bee. What's the weather like where you are?", and people won't notice any difference.
In fact, technology can do better than this. The Eliza program was written in the 1960s as a computerised psychiatrist. It's actually very simple, and just picks out words from the user's input and throws it back at him or her. User: "I've got problems with my hippopotamus." Eliza: "Tell me about your hippopotamus.". And so on. Or sometimes Eliza would say something completely inane like "That's very interesting. Tell me more." Click on the link above and try it for yourself. It could save you a fortune in pschiatrist's fees.
It was enough to fool some users into thinking that they were getting help for their problems, and I'd use it except that it's a far better conversationalist than I am, so no-one would believe it was me.
So, that's my plan. One day I'll disappear and no-one will ever know. The more observant of you will have noticed the picture at the top of this post. It's not a Caribbean island. After all, who am I kidding? If I really do get the chance to do a bunk, I'll probably spend my retirement in an Athens coffee shop. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some programming to do...