SEEMA MUNIZ wonders if we should allow ourselves to be ruled by Artificial Intelligence

Our family time often consists of the three of us sitting in the living room in the thrall of cyber silence, bent over our smartphones. One can’t help but wonder where this ‘e-trend’ is leading us to. A few months ago, the tragedy that met a seven-year-old aspiring chess champion hit headlines across the world, on account of his finger getting broken by the robot he was playing against. “It has never happened before,” the administrative body overseeing the tournament argued in futile self-defence. In an earlier incident, a contractor was crushed by a robot-gone-rogue at a VW manufacturing plant in Germany.

Yet, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here to stay, as every individual’s personal secretary. To your homes, it comes in the form of Alexa, Siri, Echo or more. Since several years now, senior citizens in the western world have found in Alexa an affordable means to secure loyal companionship and dispel loneliness.

Seema Muniz

What’s more, busy parents everywhere are finding Alexa a compassionate substitute to read bedtime stories to their children and to tuck them in. Recently, a friend proudly proclaimed, “Alexa pays our bills, orders our food…and she even flirts with my husband”. There was a sense of genuine acquisition as she exalted the many attributes of this e-genie, quite literally their own Aladdin lamp!

Yet another acquaintance timidly confided that with the seniors in their house gone, they were left clueless about the lyrics and melodies of popular bhajans (devotional songs) to be sung on various religious occasions. So, they decided to abdicate those responsibilities and transfer them to Alexa.

“Alexa finds the appropriate bhajans for the occasion and streams them into our pooja room,” she said, not bothering to disguise the relief and admiration she felt for this e-diva.

How deep has Alexa penetrated the subliminal substrata of human consciousness was brought home to me when my 80-year-old mother began getting visitations from this static-voiced robot in her dreams. There was Alexa in Hades, lending a helping hand to the relatives long departed…. The entombed Egyptian Pharaohs, encumbered with kins and kith and a whole army of servants and generals to accompany them into the nether world, must surely be turning in their graves, envious and dazed by this invention of the modern man.

“How can just one entity represent a multitude and indulge in multiple tasking?” they must wonder. “Ah Alexa, from our own great city of Alexandria!” A mummy sighs with nostalgia, mildewed words echoing through the crumbling halls of a defunct library. 

Seema Muniz, a feature writer with the Times of India group in the nineties, is an avid reader and educationist, who homeschooled her son until tenth grade, while drifting between New York and Alaska with her family. She is also an artist, with a few solo and group shows in Albany, NY, to her credit. 

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