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How smart is artificial intelligence?

Teacher: Good day, class. Today we’re going to study artificial intelligence. Raise your hand if you know what it is.


Johnny: Artificial intelligence is Ralphie’s brain — ha-ha.


Ralphie: Hey, if anybody’s brain is artificial, it’s yours, Johnny.


Teacher: Cut it out, guys. Can anybody give me a definition of artificial intelligence? OK, Prudence.


Prudence: Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the intelligence of machines or software, as opposed to the intelligence of humans or animals.


Teacher: Very good, Prudence. You’re quick to look things up on Wikipedia. Now put up your smartphone. So, can anyone give an example of AI? Joanie.


Joanie: Siri is the voice on my iPhone and Alexa is another computer voice that my mom asks to play her dorky oldies music.


Teacher: Very good, Joanie. What are some other uses of AI? Robert?


Robert: My dad bought a new car that kind of drives itself. It will beep if the car goes over the centerline and will lower the speed when it approaches a slower car.


Teacher: Excellent, Robert. Anyone else? Prudence.


Prudence: There are computers that use AI to play games like chess and even Jeopardy and usually win. I’d like to be on Jeopardy but they don’t allow smartphones.


Teacher: That’s true, Prudence. I must say, though, that smartphones are good examples of the use of AI. Charlie, do you have something to add?


Charlie: Yessir. On our vacation this summer, my dad used the GPS on his phone to find his way to the resort. Then I used an app on my phone to find out where to find girls, er, I mean where teens hang out.


Teacher: Some more good examples of ways to use AI. Did you find any girls, Charlie? Never mind. Can anybody think of other ways we might use AI to help us in our daily lives? Leonard?


Leonard: My father keeps harping on the need for smart traffic lights. He about goes berserk sitting at a stoplight and there’s no other traffic on the green light side.


Teacher: Well, Leonard, tell us just what is a smart traffic light.


Leonard: Excuse me, sir, but I have to go to Wikipedia on my smartphone. It says, “Smart traffic lights or intelligent traffic lights are a vehicle traffic control system that combines traditional traffic lights with an array of sensors and artificial intelligence to intelligently route vehicle and pedestrian traffic.”


Daddy, er, my father, says we could save billions in energy and days’ worth of time if there were intelligent traffic lights acting as traffic cops. Otherwise, he says, he should keep a copy of “Crime and Punishment” in the car to read while he’s waiting for that dumb red light to turn green.


Teacher: I’m intrigued, Leonard. So, how would a smart traffic light work? Or how does your, um, daddy say it should work?
Leonard: Well, sort of like what Robert said about his father’s new car. It has all these cameras to see what’s going on around the car and can slow down or stop when it sees an obstacle.


My father would tell you that a smart traffic light would have cameras to tell it when there was traffic coming from another direction and when there was no traffic. When there was no traffic coming from the other side, your light should turn green. Otherwise, you’re tempted to run the stupid red light. Uh, that’s my father speaking, sir.


Teacher: I certainly empathize with your father, Leonard. 


Now, can anyone tell me what “empathize” means?


Prudence: Empathize means to exercise empathy, which is the capacity to identify with a person or object.


Teacher: Very good, Prudence. Did you find that on your smartphone or your Apple watch?


Prudence: Neither. It’s an Android watch.


Teacher: Well, according to my Timex, the hour is about up. Tomorrow we’ll talk about early computers that were as big as a house and had less computing power than Prudence’s smart watch.


Class dismissed.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.