Over the last couple of decades the development of AI, Information Technology, Computer Science, Virtual Assistance - whatever one is supposed to call it - has increased exponentially. Communications, information, research, lifestyles, daily functions, have all been affected more radically that at any other time in our history.
This seems at first glance to be hugely beneficial. A new era of progress for humanity. Everyone can now have access to weird and wonderful apps that can tell you where you are and where you wish to go, how far you have been and what you should have seen en route, what your state of health is having done it, where all your friends and family were whilst you were doing it, and what are all the photos you and they have taken during it. There are applications and programs that will aid and inform you on every aspect of human activity.
However, I am beginning to wonder whether in fact all this is not causing more problems than it solves.
I am admittedly an IT dunce. I of course use a computer (in fact my entire writing career is locked inside my laptop) and I have a smart phone. But I don't carry the latter around with me everywhere, and I refuse to spend most of my hours glued to its screen as the majority of humans appear to do (and which it seems is having a grave impact on their mental health). For that reason I am no expert at handling the intricacies of the myriad applications now on offer, which supposedly make life easier, more efficient, and more fun than hitherto. My grandchildren are infinitely more versatile at exploiting all that stuff than I and most of my generation are.
But it seems to me that, even if you are familiar with the workings of this magical new universe, the frustrations, the time wasting, the stress, and the unprecedented set of new problems now created, are beginning to outweigh the benefits. I have lost track of the hours - no, the days - no, the weeks, wasted in struggling to utilise some supposedly straightforward function of cyber space, which one used to do via a simple phone call, or letter, or paper form. Yes, such ancient means are apparently more laborious, but at least easy to understand and employ. Nowadays I seem to spend most of my time tearing my hair out and shouting at my screen because it won't function as it's supposed to do. I am sure that most readers will have experienced the same kind of frustrations that I have.
Let me list some of my most recent experiences:
Attempting to take out new insurance on my car
Find the best and cheapest offer via web search, fill in all the details online, accept the offer, provide payment details. Then I am told by 'no reply' email that my proof of previous No Claims bonus is not acceptable. Am not told why, am given no telephone number, no email address, no live Chatbot access (unless I wait my turn as 26th in queue), but meanwhile am charged the first month's premium. After several hours on this business, I finally manage to get email connection via their obscure 'complaints' link, but am told by the contact that she cannot resolve the problem and I have to do it via their online form (not discovered) or chatbot. Have now gone to another insurer, but am still fighting for return of my premium, and trying to avoid their 'premature cancellation fee'.
Installing a new electricity 'smart' meter
Bombarded with messages saying I really should have the new meter installed, even though perfectly happy with the old one. Told not obligatory, but at the same time threatened with various bad happenings if I don't. Eventually give in and arrange appointment for fitting. Wait in all morning, but no one turns up. Receive email next day apologising, and offered new appointment. Pleasant engineer turns up this time. Fits new meter, explains how it works and how I never have to worry about supplying readings again. Given gadget to plug in which will tell me usage, charges and cost at any time. Tests system, proclaims all good, and leaves. Then I discover that gadget doesn't work. Inform electricity company by email. Sent complex instructions as to how to reset. Haven't yet found time to do this. Also intimidated by following message - "However, we prioritize the Health and Safety of customers, so please read the meters only if you feel it is safe to access them."
Discovering fraudulent payment via Paypal from my credit card
Expensive IT equipment ordered from a California business and delivered to an address in Texas, neither of which I recognise (I live in the UK). Many hours spent changing passwords, trying to track down source and reclaim from bank. Paypal and bank blame each other. Abortive emails and long waits for phone calls. Bank finally tells me they have to cancel my credit card whilst they investigate. Told them I need the card, and I don't want a new one as it's registered with dozens of businesses, and I've changed passwords, and complaint now several moths old so no problem. Bank says in that case can't help. Write off loss.
Receiving a new credit card from another bank
Sticker says "No need to authenticate. Use immediately". Doesn't work. Contact bank by email and phone after various attempts. Told has to be authenticated. Complex procedure to verify identity, then given instructions as to how to authenticate and set password. Try to use again, but password not recognised. Still waiting.
Receiving a new Alexa gadget
Told just have to talk to it and it will do anything - play music, emails, messages, run my life for me. Grandson sets up, demonstrates, says all good. Goes away. Try it out. Charming female voice says, "Sorry, something's wrong". Waiting for grandson to return.
Interacting with tax agencies
We informed HMRC tax office five years ago that we are now tax residents in another country and don't need a UK tax code. HMRC continue to tax pension withdrawals. Constant flow of protests over the years, online form fillings, attempted emails and phone calls, verifications by foreign tax authorities, etc. Tax still being deducted in both countries. Over £10,000 owed. Take the case to the Ombudsman. Informed very busy, might take several weeks. Advised to complain online.
Many further examples, but I won't bore the reader further.
And to finish - a far more serious problem. As is well publicised, AI now controls vast swathes of public and governmental functions. Big business, banking, energy supplies, essential services, armed forces, media information, space exploration - all are heavily dependent on computerised systems. These are becoming faster and more powerful by the day. They are also more vulnerable to hacking, distortion, false information, and sabotage. The next war will probably be won, not by tanks, ships and missiles, but by cyber offensives. There is great concern from those in the know about the increasing superiority of AI over human calculation and invention.
We have to ask ourselves this question. It has been evident for many decades now that man's technological advances are far outweighing his psychological development. Evolution works slowly, but weapons development works fast. Consider the current world state and it is obvious that homo sapiens is still at base a very primitive being, but a genius at waging war and destruction. Are we in danger of being obliterated by our own ingenuity?