Written by Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTribune on 1-6-23
Let’s start the new year out with a few ruminations on education. Zzzzzz? Maybe not.
We’ll be taking a different look at Artificial Intelligence than the one we (that’d be me) addressed in August, neither of which betrays any understanding whatsoever of what is referred to as “AI” actually is.
But I like what the words Artificial Intelligence imply because I want to say I wish something called artificial intelligence had been around when I was a school kid. It would have explained a lot. Like why I couldn’t read well in early grades or do math. I thought a multiplication table was a table in the hospital where they delivered twins.
I figured I was smart enough, though. It’s just that my intelligence was artificial, although it wasn’t called that back then.
Which brings me to my point: If there is artificial intelligence there has to be artificial stupidity, right? It’s Newton’s law. You don’t hear as much about that, but I’m quite familiar with it. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton also invented a popular cookie with figs, the opposite of which is the chocolate chip.
I came to believe my lackluster performance in early classrooms was due to the fact that I was younger than most of the other kids. My parents had gone ahead and started me in kindergarten when I was only four years old. Almost all of the other kids were five, some nearly six and looking around for possible spouses.
I didn’t realize that then, though. I didn’t realize that until sixth grade when several girls suddenly showed up on exercise day (we didn’t have a gym) with early evidence of armpit hair. Checking in the mirror at home, I found no hair at all under my arms. Not a follicle. I think I believed hair was a sign of strength (see Paul Bunyan’s beard), and boys are supposed to be stronger than girls, and how come I don’t have any armpit hair and some of the sixth-grade girls do? There goes football.
So aside from having only artificial intelligence, not the real thing, was I destined to be a hairless weakling? These thoughts did not bode well for the future. Rocket science was out, for example, along with brain surgery and maybe statistical analysis, whatever that was, not to mention the boxing ring. Wrestling? Maybe.
It took me awhile, but I credit the small deer “Bambi” for teaching me to read. I was taken to the movie by my parents and loved it so much I got the “Bambi” comic book. Looking through it I suddenly realized I was reading the words in those clouds above the characters’ heads. Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk said stuff I could understand. Hmm. I guess I can read, I thought. And I could.
My life was transformed but I wasn’t quite ready for “War and Peace.” For that I’d need hair under my arms, and maybe in other places. I did try to tackle “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” thinking it was an underwater baseball story. That takes a bit of artificial stupidity.
But I soldiered on, junior high (algebra took me by surprise — letters like A, B and X instead of numbers). High school geometry was a blast with all those triangles — isosceles, equilateral, etcetera. I had thought Isosceles was the Egyptian pharaoh who followed Pharaoh Kaopectate, but no. More artificial stupidity.
My high school geometry teacher instructed that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but added, while winking, that some Duluth students “prefer the boulevard.” That’s what some people called curvy Skyline Drive, at one time a favorite lovers’ overlook. That’s all I remember about geometry.
World History was difficult to stay awake in for someone with artificial intelligence (or stupidity). When the teacher asked me the name of Alexander the Great’s horse, and I said, “Silver,” there were repercussions.
Eventually, of course, my armpits began spouting hair, along with my face and even my chest, so I decided to go to college. I liked college, sitting around the student center smoking cigarettes between classes discussing weighty world problems like what’s happening on Saturday night or where to go for the best pizza. (Doctor’s note: He quit smoking decades ago.)
Just about everybody smoked in those days. Every so often attractive young women employed by tobacco companies would wander through the student center smilingly handing out free cigarettes to the student loungers and card players, just like in the Vegas casinos in the old days. What’s not to like about college?
What about learning stuff? I took a lot of English, history, economics and political science courses where I learned about Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin and Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher/economist who, when he died almost 200 years ago, had his body stuffed and placed in a glass case that is still on display. What else do you need to know in life?
Well, here’s something: I found the courses in economic thought enlightening. The very bases of economics, the professor said, are the factors of production: Land, labor, capital and entrepreneur. I figured they were important to know for the final exam, but couldn’t get them through my head until I adapted them to a popular song of the day, “An Affair to Remember.”
My version went: “Our love affair, may it long endure, through land, labor, capital and entrepreneur.” That worked out fine for the test but wasn’t so hot on curvy Skyline Drive, though. See what I mean about artificial intelligence?
NEXT TIME; Artificial Respiration (AR). So, you can breathe easy.