For the past two days, every weather forecast on every web site and every television station predicted six to ten inches of snow for my location. For my money, the best weather site is the National Weather Service. It too issued a winter storm warning for six to ten inches of snow, plus a trace of ice.
Given that forecast, most local school districts cancelled during the early evening hours, meaning that today, Monday, was yet another snow day! I love them one and all!
But the certainty of that forecast got me thinking about computers.
Weather forecasts used to be based on barometric pressure, and these were far less certain about how much precipitation would fall. Now computers do modeling, based on far more specific data, including the behavior of every other winter storm since data began to be stored. Despite this blossoming of computer-generated forecasting, the actual storms are still not terribly predictable. We know snow is coming, but we don't know how much we'll be getting until it ceases to fall. In today's case, the six-to-ten-inch forecast yielded a scant three inches, if that.
A little twist in the sermon here, but follow me on it:
Have you ever sat, stone-faced, as someone talked at you? I did it just last week when someone who evaluated me took me to task for not demanding that one of my students stand for the pledge to the flag. This person went on and on about it, and I just nodded blandly. All the while, I was thinking to myself, "This is utter nonsense, this woman is clearly clueless on federal pledge policies. Now I'm going to smile and nod and tell her she's right just to shut her up. But what a moron. I can't believe that I have to listen to this moron and take her seriously. Hmmmmm. I wonder if I brought in enough firewood? It's going to snow day after tomorrow. What am I going to make for dinner? I wonder if I can bring in firewood while dinner is cooking. Is she finally finished? Wow! She is!"
And then I said, "Oh, yes, you're right. I'll speak to that student."
After which she re-asserted her point at length, leading me into another reverie, this one about the new season of "Vikings."
When she asked if I had any questions, I said no, everything was great. While of course, in my head, I had all kinds of questions, beginning with, "Lady, do you know anything about our essential freedoms in this country?"
My point is this: If this educated woman could sit two feet from me and have no idea what was going on in my mind, with the full force of her brain power focused on me, how could a computer possibly do a better job under exactly the same circumstances?
Some people are easier to read than others. Individuals may have nervous tics or fluttery eyes, or they may drum their fingers impatiently when they're angry. But a person who is making a conscious effort to mask his or her emotions can damn well do it.
I think, in the absence of truth serum, a computer would have no less trouble reading the human mind than another human. We are a long way from the time when computers will be able to pick our brains. I have no doubt that day will come, but not tomorrow or next week.
The great wonder of the human brain is how it can compute but also be totally random. A very discerning evaluator might have picked up on my annoyance at her because she was asking me to pester one of my most emotionally fragile students. But there's no way she would have followed the rest of my mental meandering, which was basically tuning her out completely while pretending to listen carefully. People can do that. Human brains can do that. How long will it take computers to be that sophisticated?
I figure that when I look at the National Weather Service, and they get the forecast 100 percent correct, right down to the start time, end time, and exact amount of precipitation, then I will have to start worrying about some computer picking my brain. In the meantime, if I just go on being weird, and thinking randomly while nodding seriously, I need fear no mechanical tool.
Go ahead. Read my mind. You'll see that I'm just jamming with Jimmy on "The Immigrant Song." AaaahhhIIIIaaaaaHHHHHAAAAA!