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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Herbie: AI Marvel

Rarely do people notice the true technological breakthroughs in science fiction and fantasy movies. Roger Ebert gets it in his review of the rather silly Herbie: Fully Loaded, a new entry in the series about the mischievous car.
I see I have subconsciously stopped calling Herbie "it" and am now calling Herbie "he." Maybe I've answered my own question. If Herbie is alive, or able to seem alive, isn't this an astonishing breakthrough in the realm of Artificial Intelligence? That's if computer scientists, working secretly, programmed Herbie to act the way he does. On the other hand, if Herbie just sort of became Herbie on his own, then that would be the best argument yet for Intelligent Design…

The real story is Herbie's intelligence. The car seems to be self-aware, able to make decisions on its own, and able to communicate with Maggie on an emotional level, and sometimes with pantomime or by example. Why then is everyone, including Lohan, so fixated on how fast the car can go? The car could be up on blocks and be just as astonishing.

It goes to show you how we in the press so often miss the big stories that are right under our noses. There is a famous journalistic legend about the time a young reporter covered the Johnstown flood of 1889. The kid wrote: "God sat on a hillside overlooking Johnstown today and looked at the destruction He had wrought." His editor cabled back: "Forget flood. Interview God."

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