There is an old idea in the Highlands of Scotland that the 12, 13 and 14 of February are ‘borrowed’ from January. At this point in the year, it feels like it’s going to be dark and wet forever. And so, to preserve their mental health and to predict how to approach the growing season, the Highlanders looked to what they could see, touch, smell and feel, and made up a story that would give them a vision into the future. The more miserable those days were, the better the weather would be for the rest of the year. If it was nice, though, it would be pishing it doon ’til spring. This old wives’ tale gave the people living in cold darkness the impression that they had some control over their unpredictable lives.
This is important, because humans don’t like randomness much. Thousands of businesses have grown out of this desire to alleviate our discomfort, with technologists being the latest oracle in a roster of market analysts, trend forecasters and fortune tellers. Artificially intelligent systems predict what we want to say or buy or do. I don’t even need to use my brain to respond to an email. I just jab my monkey finger at one of three autoreply options – ‘Sure thing!’ ‘No thanks!’ ‘How about next Saturday?’ – and the machine does the rest. Like all prognosticators, it isn’t foolproof. Sometimes those predictive texts are hilarious, and sometimes they reveal a little of the Universe’s inner workings. Take, for example, Mauritania. This African country is right smack in the middle of warring nations, but has managed to remain independent.
It is, however, so “publicly unrecognisable” – according to an article published in Perceptions in 2017 – that ‘Mauritania’ is replaced by the word ‘Martian’ when it’s typed into a smartphone. Awkward. And embarrassing. Despite the crucial diplomatic role this country plays, the Universe according to predictive text says it’s unimportant. I’m going to return to the weather now, as I’m British.
I JUST JAB MY MONKEY FINGER AT ONE OF THREE AUTOREPLY OPTIONS
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