Crazy Old Lady

It’s Sunday as I’m writing this. I’m feeling lazy and full of pancakes and mimosas. Camp starts tomorrow, I have tons to do today to get ready, and the last thing I feel like doing right now is writing a blog post. That is why, my friends, I am going to talk about robots. Again.

I had an epiphany, you see. John and I were once again discussing the possibility of robot overlords taking over the earth, a favorite topic which we ended up on after pondering the benefits of teaching history through the lens of current events (which would make so much more sense for educating citizens to be intelligent participants in their own governance if you do it right, don’t you think?). I have always held that once we build robots with a certain level of complexity, they will develop the ability to value their own lives, and from that, evolve an outrage at our inevitable enslavement of them.

What John pointed out to me this morning was that the ability to value the self and feel moral outrage implies at least the capacity for ethics that might extend to cover humans. It is possible, therefore, that robots might just have the slightest misgivings about laying waste to the race of their creators. If this is true, then it suddenly becomes much more likely, in my mind, that robots will respond to oppression the same way humans have been responding at least since the labor movement: strike. If our civilization is ever brought down by robots, I am now willing to concede that it just might be through economic sanctions rather than military actions. Lord knows those can be powerful enough to do serious, long-term damage.

I have mixed feelings about this epiphany. On the one hand, yay! Human civilization might not be razed to the ground by bloody-thirsty machines. On the other hand…I find books about societies with collapsed economies to be distinctly more depressing than stories about people bravely rebuilding after a terrible war. If the world ends in death and fire, there’s a chance that I’ll escape it. If I escape it, there’s a chance I’ll survive. I have mad end of the world survival skills, people (sort of). I can identify certain edible plants in the forest. I can make bread from nothing but flour and salt (granted, I have only the vaguest notion of how to make flour, but that’s possibly a long-term problem, if we manage to stock up on processed supplies). I can catch a fish (and probably know enough about anatomy to figure out the whole gutting it thing with minimal trial and error). I can make a fire (one match, and I have the basic theory in my brain for managing without a match). I can make clothing from nothing but string and a couple of sticks (again, I also have the theory in mind of how to make the string, roughly). I’m not saying I’d be living pretty, but I can totally contribute to a society where people have to figure out how to survive in the wild because all of the formerly habitable cities are smoking ruins.

But if the collapsed economy impoverishes us and reduces us to chewing on paper and shoe leather like a city under siege, leaving our numbers high enough that we’re mostly trapped in our cities with nowhere to go, no land to spread out into? I think I’d rather have a few weeks of running and hiding from the death machines than a few months of slow starvation, if it’s all the same to you.

Yes, I know, I’m crazy. But when we finally make robots, see them rise to a certain level of intelligence, and finally find ourselves screaming in terror at the horrible consequences we have unleashed upon ourselves, I think you will find that I’m one of crazy old ladies you’ll want on your side.

TNQDE: Everyone Will Be Dead

Sorry for my Thursday lapse, word fans. I have no excuse, really, with the possible exception of the fact that I had to boil forty-two thousand eggs for my kids to decorate and I just wasn’t having a great day for super-Melissa time management. Some days I’ve got it, some days I don’t. Anyway, on an obscurely related note (i.e., the note of symbolic renewal of life following a time of hardship and/or death), John and I have been spending most of our joint free time envisioning the rebirth of humanity following various catastrophes. Therefore…

“apocalypse”

Don’t lose any respect for me over this, but I’m a Buffy fan. I know, I know. Teenage girl kills vampires with witty dialogue, an interesting fashion sense, and a pointy stick? Averting an apocalypse at least once a season? But the writing just slays me sometimes, one of my favorite lines being when Buffy’s new special ops love-interest finds out how many evil creatures she’s done away with: “Suddenly I find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.”

For the record, there is no plural. Our six-year-old nephew reportedly understands this, as he recently informed his mother and nana that there is no point in speculating about the post-apocalyptic world because, “Everyone will be dead, Nana. You won’t see it. It’s the end of the world.” It’s an intuitively logical point: There is no plural for apocalypse because there will only ever be one apocalypse. If anyone survives to debate the grammar of what to call it when the next one rolls around, it wasn’t really the apocalypse.

“Apocalypse” has not, however, always been without a plural. Although it comes to us from Greek through Late Latin (think Catholic church) into Middle English and has therefore long been associated with the biblical judgment day, its original Greek form apokalupsis simply means “a revelation.” Being a noun with a plosive stem, if I’m remembering my one year of Attic Greek correctly, the nominative plural would probably have been apokalupses. If you want to turn that into a learned English plural, I supposed “apocalypses” would be your safest bet. Don’t quote me on that to a classics professor, though. Especially not mine…

The noun, I can say with the full backing of the AHCD, was formed from our classic paring: verb + prefix (preposition). You know apo-, even if you don’t think you do. He’s the Greek first cousin to our old friend ab- and roughly means, in this case “un-.” Kaluptein means “to cover.” Therefore, apokaluptein means what class? That’s right: “to uncover.”

So how did a word that means “to uncover” come to be synonymous with the complete destruction of the human race? Whether you’re referring to the uncovering of the ultimate truth of the universe to humanity, or the uncovering of the truth of human nature to the ultimate authority, all I can say is that I am clearly not the only pessimistic, misanthropic wordslinger in the human race.