I expect to run into George Jetson any day now.
This week, I found the future disturbingly staring me in the face. Three times over two days, I discovered myself in a world George Jetson would feel right at home.
First, at a journalism meeting, the discussion centered around how ChatGPT — or artificial intelligence-based generative writing — would change everyone’s lives, from news reporting to academic thesis papers, advertising copy and writing of fortune cookies.
While long a villainous subject of science fiction, artificial intelligence-fueled writing tools more widely burst onto the scene several months ago — and human imaginations are running wild.
The spectrum is broad and filled with angst. Keyboards will cease to be needed. Original thought will die. Instead, we will be servants to the evil algorithms. Others point to how computer-generated spreadsheets eliminated tedious computations with a 10-key desk calculator and a room-length tape.
Regardless, I only needed to look out my car window the next day to witness another unsettling AI example. Cruising highway speed, a driverless car from Google’s Waymo division trucked beside me. While the test vehicle had a human behind the wheel, the technology program is to create driverless Uber-type fleets.
But the final straw was sitting in a small Kansas City-style barbeque restaurant in downtown Dallas.
Our waiter, Brandon, was exceptional. He did not need to write down our orders, and his personality was warm and engaging. We were in excellent hands. Our table then settled back into a conversation.
Then Brandon’s assistant brought our food in from the kitchen.
My adult beverage of choice stopped in mid-air.
Named “Fitz” by the staff, the small rolling robot resembled George Jetson’s maid, Rosey, who made her way into the room. Roughly 4 feet tall, with a small computer screen top projecting a semblance of a face, Fitz paused nearby. Brandon walked over, grabbed the dishes from her four horizontal shelves, and placed each in front of us.
Dishes removed, Fitz silently wheeled around and returned to the kitchen.
Brandon told us Fitz is the best employee ever.
“In a year and a half, Fitz has never called in sick, been late to work or talked back to me,” he said. “The last one I particularly appreciate.”
Brandon told us Fitz could speak and sing. And, of course, one of us just happened to have a birthday (what is a few days — or months?)
Minutes later, Fitz comes around the corner singing happy birthday to a friend at our dinner. While the voice intentionally sounds like a computer — a la Rosey the maid — the effect is powerful. The future was here, and singing happy birthday.
I don’t know where this leads, but moments of technology realization are nothing new. Flight, space travel and computers once only lived in the domain of science fiction. And in the end, how we use technology decides where we land.
However, today may be the first time I may not be surprised to run into George Jetson.
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