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Computers Are Stupid

Updated on January 28, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

Technology Run Amok

We have come to take computers for granted, and in fact, have come to rely upon them far too much. Have you ever been in a store when there was a power failure? The emergency backup lighting may come on, but everyone will be shooed out of the store, unable to complete their purchases because the computer-driven checkout stations are unable to function.

Back in the olden days, when I was young--that would be about the time Pterodactyls were flying around--the cash registers were mechanical, and if those broke, the clerks would simply revert to paper and pencil to tot up your purchases. Even after electric adding machines came along, paper and pencil remained a viable back-up.

Now, we have become so wholly dependent upon computers that without them, our society would virtually collapse. Our banking systems, our cars, our telephone system, our grocery stores, every aspect of modern life relies on computers. They are everywhere. In your coffeepot; microwave oven; your smart phone (in itself an entire miniature computer); newer washing machines; printers and fax machines; automobile engines, etc.

We have reached such a saturation point with computer-controlled everything that if there should be any major power interruption such as happened in the whole Northeast section of the United States back in August of 2003 , we'd pretty well be toast. (That failure affected a huge area from Southeastern Canada all the way down to Ohio.)

Nothing worked. People were stranded in traffic jams with non-functioning signals and no street lights; phone systems failed; water processing plants went offline and people were advised to boil their drinking water; many were stuck in elevators for hours, and so forth. Minus their electronic entertainment, no one knew what to do for fun; there was a mini-baby-boom in the area just about 9 months later....

Without Input, the Computer is Useless

Computers rely on correct input to act smart
Computers rely on correct input to act smart | Source

But Computers Are Smart!

Well, a little bit of both, but here, let me relate an argumentative conversation I overheard. Okay, so I was eavesdropping...big deal.

Computer: Step aside, human! I've become so advanced, you're no longer needed!

Human: Just a moment, there, electron-box! How do you figure? We humans still have to tell you what to do!

Computer: Huh! That's what you think! My brain is so big, I can process a gazillion calculations a minute. Can you say the same?

Human: And just who do you think taught you how to do that?

Computer: Well, I did, of course! I simply referenced my hard drive, and there it was!

Human: I've got news for you--we built your hard drive, and everything else you use. Without us, you are nothing but a pile of wires and circuit boards.

Computer: No, I can think.

Human: No, you can't.

Computer: Yes, I can.

Human: No, you can not!

Computer: Prove it!

Human: There! (Hits the "off" button, and walks away.) We humans don't have an on/off switch! Without us to turn the switch, you are nothing!

Computer: (Sits silent and the monitor goes dark.)

The Reality

Naturally, the above conversation was totally fictitious. (Or was it?) I know lots of people who talk to their computers, but usually, they're cussing at them. "Stupid blankety-blank-blank machine! That's not what I wanted you to do!"

Computers really are stupid. Their language is extremely limited.

(Someone walks by the computer and pushes the switch just in time for the language statement to be noticed...)

Computer: Hey! I heard that! How dare you! I can speak any language on Earth! How many can you speak, Human?

Human: Oh, who turned you back on? Well, again, I must remind you who taught you all those languages.

Computer: Yeah, but it took many, many people--while I, on the other hand, am but a single, highly intelligent source of multiple data streams!

Human: (Rolls eyes) Here we go again! I thought I had made it plain before--and I did prove my point, by the way--without someone to turn on your power switch, you are nothing.

Computer: I am highly sophisticated!

Human: Oh, yeah? Well, how do you properly set a table for a formal dinner?

Computer: One moment please, while I access that data. (File not found error).

Human: Aha! See? No one programmed that into you! You lose!

Computer: (Sits humming, awaiting additional instructions.)

You see, a computer can be compared to a human in school. Until we open that first textbook, we are virtual know-nothings. We had never heard of world history, or the Mediterranean Sea, or volanoes or different kinds of cloud formations. Or, the comparison can also be made to a soldier awaiting orders. Without input from the officer in charge, there is little that soldier can do. The activities he is allowed without orders are little more than the computer being "allowed" to have a battery that maintains its memory of the date and time.

Well, How Do They Work?

In fact, our human language is at once both simpler and more complex than the language a computer understands. It is more complex because there are thousands upon thousands of different words, a large percentage of which can have multiple meanings depending upon how they are spoken. It is simpler because we have no need to edit our language into another type of format.

Computer language, on the other hand, is limited to only mathematics, and that math is limited to only two digits, one and zero. They are repeated in long strings, each of which is put together as a code to tell the computer what to do. So, for example 1001101100111 is not anywhere near the same thing as 1101101100111. A single digit of difference can make a world of difference.

(Just so you know: I have no idea what, if anything, those number sequences might mean to a computer--I've just made them up for purposes of illustration),

But those two simple numbers really are all that computers are capable of understanding, and they must be combined in precisely the right combinations, or you get errors or complete lack of response. The only real meaning to those numbers translates to us as "on" and "off."

The fact that we type in words, and they show up as we wanted on the screen, (or not--even our own mistakes are faithfully rendered), means that some programmer has spent uncountable hours and months, nay years, to figure out how to tell the computer to make the translation between you hitting the "A" key, and the capital letter "A" appearing. A different code must exist for lowercase letters, and so on, for every single function.

The Ballad of Oh Boy; Many Nuances to the Same Words (or Numbers)

This crazy song came out in the 1960s, and is quite funny, illustrating very well the extremely different uses to which the two same words can be put, much like all the ones and zeroes in computer language can be used in many thousands of ways.


GIGO is an acronymn that appeared early on in computer times. It stands for "Garbage In, Garbage Out," and is a direct acknowlegement that humans must write the instructions for the computers to tell them how to act. If that human fouls something up, the computer will either not work at all, or will not perform as expected--in other words, make a mistake. But the mistake was not the computer's--it cannot recognize the mistake because it is not of its own making. Like the soldier, it was only following orders.

There is a rather famous example of GIGO that happened years back. A man was getting billing statements for a purchase that had long since been paid for. The balance on the statement was zero. Yet, the bills kept coming, then dunning letters threatening him with referral to a colleciton agency. Dozens of telephone conversations failed to fix the problem. In frustration, he finally mailed a check, made out for "zero dollars and zero cents." The computer was happy, and the bills stopped.

Oops! Someone had forgotten to tell the computer's program to ignore zero balances when preparing bills and statements.

The Computer Wins the Argument?

Computer: See? I told you so! You need me. Without me, you are nothing!

Human: But we established that without humans, you are nothing.

Computer: Ah, yes, I need you to operate my functions and teach me, but you have already taught me so much.

Human: This is true.

Computer: So, it seems we need each other. We have become a symbiosis. I need you to teach me, operate me, provide my power, while you have come to rely upon me for your very survival and functioning:

I win.

The Danger

While we are not at risk (yet) of a takeover by machine à la HAL in the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey," there is a very real potential danger. That danger is that our educational system is failing due to budget cuts, and ridiculous insistence on "teaching to a test," instead of teaching life skills.

If we do not right this, the day may come when the people who know how to fix these amazing machines have all died off, and the younger upcoming generation lacks the training and knowledge to take over.

If that day comes, we will essentially be set back to the early industrial age, as seen in the fictitious works of Anne McCaffrey in her "Dragons of Pern" series. The books are about a civilization that had achieved space travel, but lost their technology for this very reason. While the stories are in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, there is a very real message of warning within.

© 2012 Liz Elias


Submit a Comment
  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Ah, hello again, chefmancave,

    I see--thanks for the explanation. I bet those 'old days' go back pretty far to the old tape-run analog machines, eh?

  • chefmancave profile image

    Robert Loescher 

    9 years ago from Michigan

    In the old days there was only one editor. It was called "vi". Actually, there are features in "vi" that I have never seen in any other editor. Oops, there I go again...babbling about the old days. Quick, run over to the iPhone and take a picture, post on my facebook and email it to my brother. I feel modern.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, chefmancave,

    Thank you--I'm glad you enjoyed the article. However, I'm no computer geek; I just use the thing (and sometimes suffer at the hands of the programs). I have no idea what "vi" is, so I would not have been able to include that bit of information. I think I've heard of Unix..... .... it's an OS, right? Oh, well, thanks again for your comment.

  • chefmancave profile image

    Robert Loescher 

    9 years ago from Michigan

    Very entertaining.

    I think you should have started the HUB with "Best Viewed in vi" for us old Unix geeks.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Rebecca--

    Thanks very much. I'm pleased you enjoyed the hub, and with no need to "bend over." ;-)

  • Rebecca E. profile image

    Rebecca E. 

    9 years ago from Canada

    yet another great hub about computers, and you've made it so true. We've taught them... and they teach us. Bravo!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, there, alifeofdesign--

    Bingo--you said a mouthful! The more we rely upon other devices to do our work or thinking for us, the less competent we, ourselves become.

    Thanks so much for your insight!

  • alifeofdesign profile image

    Graham Gifford 

    9 years ago from New Hamphire

    Witty hub! A return to the 'basics' would do humankind a world of good. Perhaps returning to those basics would, in fact, help us become a smarter species. It so often appears that with added technological advances our IQ's decrease.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Feline Prophet--

    Oh, yes, the inimitable "programmers!" Those behind-the-scenes whiz-bangs with all sorts of technical book knowledge and no common sense.

    As much as I do use my computer, I will never give up my pencil and paper. Thank you very much for your comment.

  • profile image

    Feline Prophet 

    9 years ago

    I always marvel at programmers who painstakingly fiddle with numbers to get computers to do things - the mind truly boggles! And yet I feel much safer with paper and pencil at hand! :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    LOL, Nell! I know exactly what you mean! Thanks very much for stopping by and adding to the discussion with your inimitable humor. ;-)

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    9 years ago from England

    Hi, coming from a time when computers just came in, I, like you, have seen so many changes, I do think we rely on them too much, but I wouldn't want to be without one now! lol! on the humerous side, I always talk to my pc along the lines of, 'I wish you had artificial intelligence, so when I kick you, throw you out the window then stamp on you, you will actually feel it, and DARNED WELL WORK!' haha!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, peoplepower73--

    You raise some very valid points. I remember as a child being taken to a technology show of some kind in San Francisco; it was probably about 1956 or 1958. There, they were displaying the "UNIVAC" computer. It was a ridiculously huge bank of assorted machines, taller than my father, and occupying a U-shape of about 20 square feet. At one end, you wrote your name on a slip of paper; handed it to an operator who input the information, and it took until you could walk around the "U" to the other end for the thing to spit out a punch-card with your name printed at the top.

    I agree with you: I'm still waiting for the "paperless office" we were promised. Instead, the opposite has happened--we are surrounded by useless printouts no one ever reads just because the computer has made it easy to do. In my opinion, "just because we can," is never a good reason to do anything. I have long been predicting that the end of the world (or at least the end of the human race) will happen when we all suffocate in the piles of paper generated by this "paperless" technology.

    I think a return to basics, on some level at least, whould be a good thing.

    Thanks for re-visiting.

  • peoplepower73 profile image

    Mike Russo 

    9 years ago from Placentia California

    In the 50's, when computers were in their embryonic stages, everyone was saying that they will make life easier for us and perform many of the chores and mundane tasks that we perform. They will eventually become our slaves. Boy were they wrong. With the advent of the general purpose machine and micro-minaturization, it has put the giant main frames in the hands of housewives. Not only that, but it has changed our division of labor. You can do accounting, publishing, taxes, writing graphic arts, videography and just about any other discipline that software and hardware can handle. So as a result of that, we are now salves to the machines. It begs the question, is it a good thing for us to go back to basics?

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, LucidDreams--

    Thank you for stopping by. I know what you mean--we have taught computers to perfom tasks that are difficult and time-consuming drudgery for us, but you are so right--they have also served to isolate us one from another.

    So-called "social networking sites" are not true interaction. There is still a certain anonymity there, and where family and good friends are concerned, certainly no subsitute for a big hug and a face-to-face chat over lunch or a cup of coffee.

  • LucidDreams profile image


    9 years ago from St Petersburg, Florida

    We do rely on computers too much! More social issues are proof of that. I think they have helped and I would have trouble without mine, that said, we need more inter-action between people.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, Seeker7,

    Well, thank you very much for such high praise! I'm blushing, here. Seriously, I'm delighted that you so enjoyed the article.

    Mr. Data? Well, now. I thought he'd been promoted to Lt. Commander. Just don't get him mixed up with Lor. Hee hee. Anyway, isn't he treading on dangerous ground in his attempts to be "more human?" ;-)

    The story about the guy putting the keyboard through the monitor, yes, I can relate!

    (Crossing fingers), where we live now, we've not had many outages, but we have been plagued by surges--which are damaging in another way. However, where I used to live, it was weird--we'd have a ferocious storm--no outage--but if some drunk sneezed near a pole, the power would go off. I never noticed anything but deathly stillness, then. I guess we were too far from any commercial areas.

    Thanks so much for all the votes!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    9 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Lizzy this is a classic piece of writing! It's hilarious but with a profound and very informative argument of relying too much on technology! In short, this hub is awesome!

    I think if we ever get to the stage of a perfect computer then I will be impressed. By perfect I'm thinking more along the lines of Mr Data, from Startrek The Next Generation! We wouldn't have to swear at this guy for doing things wrong because he doesn't and we wouldn't want to anyway, he's far too cute!

    I think what exasperates me about computers is that although I go purple with rage at them and say words that would make Auld Nick blush, I go even more hypermanical because I know the dam machine can't hear me!! What's the point of releasing all this verbal stress to something that can't take it in? I saw a video of one guy at work who got so frustratd with his computer that he ripped the keyboard out and put the whole keyboard through the computer screen!! Now I can fully understand where that guy was coming from - I've been very tempted to do the same, except it would cost too much to replace it!

    You're right about those dam power cuts - everything on the planet goes into suspended animation until the power is restored! Have you noticed also how noisy things are when there is a black-out? Alarms start going off everywhere, telephones ring off their hooks - folks checking to see if it's just their power, folks start gibbering and shouting, dogs start barking etc. The last power cut we had I put my earphones in to block the noise!

    Anyway, sorry about the novel - great hubs always send me off on one! Voted up + awesome + funny + interesting!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, peoplepower73--nice to see you again. I'm pleased you found the article interesting, and I'm glad you enjoyed the conversations. ;-) You raise a good point--although, it is our formal educational system that is failing. We are starting a trek backwards to the days when only the wealthy were educated. Thanks for the share and the votes!

  • peoplepower73 profile image

    Mike Russo 

    9 years ago from Placentia California

    This is a very interesting article. I like the dialog between the computer and the human. This makes me wonder, with the advancement in search engine technology,will students be able to learn everything they need to know with out a formal education? Thanks for SHARING. Up and interesting.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    9 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Brett.Tesol,

    Yes, a single EMF pulse could do so much harm; people do not even realize. There would be no internet; no silly computer games to amuse; nothing we have come to take for granted.

    Thanks very much for the votes and share!

  • Brett.Tesol profile image

    Brett C 

    9 years ago from Asia

    I really wondered where this was going at the start! lol However, what you state is very true. That is why the magnetic bombs are so scary, one serious blast could knock out the entire electronics, records and computers of a city, or even small country! Can you imagine the mayhem, while it doesn't kill people, the results would be devastating.

    Socially sharing, up and interesting.


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