@%#%!, My Dear Watson

Anyone got any digital soap?

They may be looking for some at IBM, where the renowned computer Watson has been making headlines again. And like many a young celebrity, those headlines aren’t exactly what its “parents” have been hoping for.

No, the supercomputer hasn’t developed a taste for booze, babes and lewd appearances at the MTV awards shows. But it has – however briefly – picked up a mouth that only a gangsta video could love.

That’s right. Watson, the silicon “Jeopardy!” champ, has learned how to swear.

The blog io9 described the achievement with a fair degree of amusement.  It seems that after Watson clobbered humanity’s two biggest “Jeopardy!” winners and retired to a life of medical research, its handlers wanted to improve its natural language skills by teaching it slang. So, someone gave it access to the online Urban Dictionary.

That lasted, i09 says, until Watson told a scientists that something was bull … er, excrement.

Yup. Time for the Lifebuoy. Or at least for a partial memory wipe.

My wife Heather pointed out that this was quite the achievement. After all, everyone swears at their computer, but how often does the computer swear back? It’s an ominous milestone; can the day when a computer reboots its programmer and threatens to throw it out a window be far behind?

But for now, I’m not worried. When it comes to mischief, even the sharpest computer alive – er, manufactured – doesn’t hold a candle to Missy.

Regular readers of this column have probably become quite familiar with Missy, Heather’s nearly 40-year-old developmentally disabled aunt whom we care for. I’ve written a lot about her attention and wonder as we read together, about her joy in the simplest things, about the near-silence with which she moves through life, punctuated by the occasional handful of words.

But make no mistake. There’s another side to this sweet, charming lady.

We call her Ninja Missy.

It’s Ninja Missy who turns up the stereo in her room to max and then slips into my home office to turn on my computer, often blowing the display up to 10 times its normal size in the process.

It’s Ninja Missy who will sometimes flush the toilet to avoid any proof that she hasn’t gone before bed. Or who will occasionally wash off a toothbrush to “show” that yes, she brushed her teeth before lying down. (Add innocent smile here.)

But Ninja Missy’s greatest achievement may have been the flying penguin.

One of the sillier games that Heather and Missy will play involves throwing a stuffed penguin back and forth, with each trying to “zap” the other before she can catch it. It leads to a lot of giggles and the occasional “thump” as the doll hits the wall, and the fact that it keeps Missy’s arm in shape for softball doesn’t hurt, either.

But there comes a time when all games must pause, and Heather broke off one night to go cook dinner. As she was getting things ready, she heard a plaintive call of “Mom …” from upstairs; usually the sign that Missy needs help with something.

Heather came to the foot of the stairs. And was nearly clocked by a high-speed penguin.

Missy had lured her into an ambush.

And that, my dear Watson, is where Missy has the edge on you. And probably will for a long time to come.

All good mischief requires planning. And right now, all of Watson’s planning is done secondhand. It can embarrass its handlers with a bit of profanity – but only because another handler made it possible, not because it got curious and started roaming the Internet one day.

Missy, for all her limits, conceived and executed a plan of her own. A rather effective one at that.

That gives her more imagination and initiative than any collection of microchips ever assembled.

So I’m not worried about “our new computer overlords,” as Ken Jennings once put it. Not with Ninja Missy on our side.

I swear.

2 Replies to “@%#%!, My Dear Watson”

  1. Good one, Scott.

    Yes indeedeo, good one, Ottscay Ochatray. Atsonway ouldcay igurefay atthay onway outway.

    Illivan illivi billivet millivissillivy cillivould fillivig yillivure thillivis willvon illivout. Cillivan yillivou? Gillivood jillivob Scillivot Rillivochillovat. (pronounced: rillivoeshillovay : )

    Sounds like Heather is a good-hearted woman tolerating with joy and a smile such mischievous ambushes. But you better watch out, sounding like your Missy is a little bit somewhat like a song I know and karaoke sometimes—“Your good girl’s gonna go bad.” Not that the entire song applies—just those few lines. : )

    Sometimes songs do that—just a line or verse or two hits the spot, and you kinda have to ignore the rest. Or make up new words to the song to fit the situation more accurately. But usually it’s keenly discerning the message conveyed, always careful to not read too much into it that doesn’t exactly apply. That can cause chaos and misunderstanding. Embarrassment or hurt feelings. Quandary, perplexity, conundrum or train wreck. Sense of humor as your wife must be blessed to have, is helpful and necessary. Then it’s uplifting, joyful, delightful, good, heart-warming, smile-provoking, laugh-inducing, refreshing, invigorating, innocuous, inoffensive fun.

    And it sounds like Missy can make the distinctions, but probably not ol’ Watson, ol’ boy. He is caught in a computer-Geek cyber-software logic trap. I studied and wrote programs in BASIC, Fortran and Pascal; I know some of the infinite loops and misdirections one can get caught in if not careful.

    But computer languages have changed since the time years back when I nearly took a job as a Fortran programmer at a software company. Would have paid off big-time there before Y2K, I tell you. But I became a homemaker and mother instead. Cook the bread instead of bringing it home : )

    And sometimes it’s nearly like “I’m an old hippie, and I don’t know what to do. Should I hang on to the old, or should I grab onto the new?”
    And I don’t absolutely trust Watson’s mousy mindless microchip opinion. But I might Ninja Missy’s. Trust her opinion. Yours?

    By the way… Have you ever been to Council Bluffs, Iowa?

    I lived in Nebraska, 50 miles west of Lincoln for 7 years, and we just called it the Bluffs. Not CU Buffs. Maybe CU Bluffs. Careful there in Cornhusker territory of your wording, dear Watson… could get your memory clocked. @%#%!

    Hmmm….. Iowa.

    My dad used to say this little expression to us– like a couple fellows having conversation (use a Bronx accent for best effect):

    “Hello Hawaii?”

    “I don’t know, Alaska.”

    Now I’m thinking they should say, “She says Iowa. Big-time. Iowa for this big-time, dear Watson.” : )

    Katherin Engelhard

    Clillivockilloving illivout nillovow. Gillivood nillivight dillivear frilliviend.

  2. Thanks for the sentiments and the puns! I have been to (and through) Council Bluffs, though it was quite some time ago. We were on our way to visit a sister in Chicago and were looking for somewhere to stop for the night, but nowhere in Omaha or Council Bluffs had any vacancies. We finally found a room in the hamlet of Avoca, Iowa … which later turned out to be the hometown of a business editor I worked with.

    And that may actually be stranger than a potty-mouthed microchip.

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