Computers are wonderful tools. At this point in our civilized existence they are pretty essential to survival - after all, you could probably burn your computer if you needed to stay warm. I came to realize the painful reality of this fact when the computer, on which I am now writing, recently crashed, leaving me computer-less for several weeks. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it seemed awfully close.
While computers are great, they are only machines. We design them, and make them do what we want, The Matrix aside. I had a rather interesting experience the other day that brought home to me how much these artificial intelligenti reflect our own values and ideas.
I was innocently working on the beginnings of a paper for school. The course was Western Civilization I, and being the good student that I am I did as the school rules told me and indicated this at the top of the page.
Now, if you use Microsoft Word, you know that it can’t just let you type in peace. It starts producing these squiggly green and red lines underneath what you type. These are known as grammar and spelling correctors, respectively. This can often be a great help, but sometimes it’s downright annoying.
So there I was, typing along, when I noticed one of these squiggly green lines underneath the word “Civilization.” Curious, I clicked on it to see what other alternatives it had to offer. There was only one entry. Apparently, the computer wanted me to put “Western Civilization s” instead of “Western Civilization,” and at that moment, it hit me like a desktop PC.
After all, we wouldn’t want to offend peoples like the French, who have created such an incredible civilization with products like a certain kind of toast, a certain kind of fries, and a certain tower (I have lots of French in my heritage, so I can make this joke). We don’t want to recognize that fact that for over two millennia the area known as Europe, and later America across the seas, was bound together by a certain system of ideas and values that, in part, came from, dare I say it? … Christianity.
Once again we see ideas have consequences. What we think as a society pervades everything, even our computer programs.
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