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GENERALSuresh Menon: Science-fiction nightmare

Suresh Menon is a writer based in India. In his youth he set out to change the world

Suresh Menon for Friday magazine
February 10, 2012

For years we worried about computers taking over the world. Science-fiction writers made a fortune from our fears. The more daring of them even extended the argument to salt shakers and bedside lamps taking over the world. And then it happened. They took over the world; the computers, I mean, not the salt shakers, although the one on my table has been staring at me meaningfully in the past month or so.

They book our airline tickets, send us books, maintain our appointments and exchange photographs with other computers, all the while leading us to believe that they have made life easier for us. This is the smart part of their plan. They haven't made life easier, merely ensured that we don't meet other human beings and plan a revolution against the computer-controlled world.

I was at an airline office recently attempting to book a ticket when the clerk said, "Why don't you book it online?" I thought he was being cute until I discovered that he had lost the basic skill required to book a ticket manually. This is how computers are relieving us of our skills.

Have you tried telling a youngster who is working at a fast food outlet in order to put himself through school that you don't need so much mayo with your burger? Then asked him how much less would you have to pay if instead of two cups of coffee, you only had one?

Things immediately come to a standstill. The manager is called, and he calls the governor and doubtless the governor gets onto his hotline and checks with the president. And all because the computers have sucked away our ability to do simple arithmetic.

The question asked in third-grade math, "Should I multiply or divide, add or subtract?" is now being asked by grown men in moustaches and even some grown women with a suggestion of a moustache. That is how dependant we have become on computers, and that is part of their overall plan.

One day soon, we will wake up to find computers pressing buttons on us just to ensure we get our daily exercise and keep our minds focused on making smaller and better computers that can rule the world with even less effort. We will be forced to build a better machine while the existing ones party and network and discuss how they spent last weekend.

This is not just a science-fiction nightmare - in fact, hang on while I unplug my computer and smash its face. If you are reading this, be warned, it hasn't worked. Computers have begun writing columns too.

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