Humans of the world, rejoice. Some computers are as dumb as we are. Sometimes even dumber.
Clearly we humans are losing the fight against computer domination. Already they check our groceries. Monitor our bodily functions in hospital. Send us bills. Follow us from cradle to grave. Give us lifetime numbers. Even follow us to the Moon. But computers don't know it all. Yet. Consider these examples of computer errors, from both government and industry:
A Chicago-based computer employed by Time, Inc., spotted a likely subscriber in G. Survey of Reston, Va. A good address. Lots of money and literate people in Reston, Ban whirr, click, type, type, stamp, mail.
Time's computerized letter told G. Survey he (or she) had been chosen to receive the magazine at reduced rates. Plus a free almanac, if G. Survey would act quickly. Unfortunately for the marketing department, G. Survey is an "it," the U.S. Geological Survey. The letter wound up on the desk of a civil servant. To make a long story short, no sale. Next time, Time, try F.B. Eye.
There is an Arlington, Va., man who keeps being buried by a federal computer. He once worked for Uncle Sam. Shortly after retirement his wife started getting computerized letters saying, "WE ARE SORRY TO LEARN ABOUT THE DEATH OF THE PERSON NAMED ABOVE. BENEFITS ARE PAYABLE UNDER FEDERAL LAWS USUALLY TO THE FIRST IN THE FOLLOWING ORDER."
Two basic problems here. First the government wants a copy of the man's death certificate, plus a "blue federal death claim form" before the wife can get what is coming to her. Secondly, the man is not dead. Never has been. He sounded great Friday, except with the depressed feeling anyone might get when constantly told by his government that he is dead. Meantime, since he is "dead" he isn't getting his pension check, and since he really isn't dead, his wife gets no widow's benefit.
Last week a very close associate of mine, Steven Causey, got a compter-personalized invitation from a major credit card firm. It said it heard he is just the sort of person it likes to serve. Good credit. A man of the world. Obviously in need of plastic for business and pleasure.
Two basic problems here. First, S. Causey is barely 13. At the moment he is, well, between jobs. And even when he does work his gross take home pay rarely exceeds $13. Hardly enough to qualify for a major credit card. Besides, McDonalds does not honor the American Express card. Another computer strikeout.
As everyone knows, the Internal Revenue Service has the most ruthless, efficient, calculating computers in the world. Recently, Ms. Elizabeth R. Tunnel of Norfolk, Va., came to the attention of the IRS computer. The computer said it had come to its attention that Ms. Tunnel had a lot of cars, really a lot, and why hadn't she paid taxes on them? It sent her a form and asked for payment soonest.
Again, a couple of problems. Elizabeth isn't of Ms., or a Mrs., or a Miss, or anything like that. Elizabeth R. Tunnel is, in fact, the Elizabeth River Tunnel. A human would know that "she" is a tunnel that runs beneath the Elizabeth River.
Elizabeth's reply to the IRS was penned by an assistant district engineer of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation. He said "Elizabeth" wasn't subject to the tax because none of the cars are registered in her name. The IRS computer is being reprogrammed.
If nothing like this has happened to you yet, just wait.