Servando's Law

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to Moore’s Law, enunciated in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of
Intel, the power of computer processing doubles every 18 months.
Based on this assertion, which has proved to be extremely accurate,
some scholars believe that computers will reach the point where
they will be more intelligent than humans in about twenty years,
give or take a couple of years.

Professor Hans Moravec, an eminent roboticist at Carnegie Mellon
University is not that optimistic. He believes that it will take
a little longer for computers to be more intelligent than humans
in all areas of life, from running efficient businesses to writing
surrealist poetry. In his latest book, Robot:
Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
(Oxford University press,
1999), Moravec predicts that robots will be that advanced by 2040.

With all respect to the experts, however, I have to disagree. Actually,
computers will become more intelligent than humans in about ten
years. But not thanks to Moore’s Law, but because of a less known
one: Servando’s Law.

According to Servando’s Law, since the emergence of widespread computer
use, the level of human stupidity in the United States has been
doubling every 9 months. Therefore, in about ten years Americans
will be so stupid that any computer, even a PC running Windows,
will be more intelligent than any human living in this country.

Three main things characterize computers: First, they are stupid,
second, they are literal, and, third, they are fast. The fact that
computers are stupid is so obvious that it doesn’t deserve any serious
analysis at all. A computer is a sort of idiot savant, just a box
full of incoherent, dead parts, which need to be put to life through
something called a computer program. Without a program, a computer
is nothing more than an expensive paperweight; a cranium without
a brain.

The fact that they are literal is mostly ignored by the public at
large, though any computer programmer can testify that it is a lot
easier to litter-train your cat than making a computer perform a
task a thousand times simpler. Tell your dog to do something, and
he will do it, then stop and wait for your next order. Tell a computer
through a computer program to "do something," forgetting
to add a line of code instructing the computer to "stop doing
something" at the end of the code, and the stupid machine either
will crash or fall into an endless loop, repeating the same action
over and over forever.

But computers are fast. In fact they are extremely fast. The latest
desktop models can be a million times faster than a human brain.
That’s why, like people endowed with an eidetic or photographic
memory, computers fool us to believe that they are clever while
in fact they are not. They can recall in a split second a million
times more data than a human being in a year. But, as you can easily
verify by performing a web search, most of the data they recall
is so stupid as to make one laugh. Buy a book about the Bay of Pigs
at the web site, and the computer most surely will tell
you that other people like you have bought similar books, like Beautiful
Caribbean Bays and Feeding Your Pigs the Natural Way.

In honor to truth, however, most of the abilities we attribute to
computers are not the product of computers at all, but of a non-computer
element called the program. The problem with computer programs is
that they are not written by computers, but by humans, and Servando’s
Law inexorably affects all humans without exception, including (or
particularly) computer programmers.

In ancient times, somebody had the idea of giving the moron of the
town a stone and a club to keep him busy. The moron learned how
to hit the stone with the club and had a happy time. Soon after,
people from other towns followed the example. Eventually the stone
evolved into a ball, and morons from different towns began getting
together to hit the balls with their clubs. That’s how golf was
invented. Lately, however, morons don’t play golf anymore, they
learn computer programming. After graduating, some of them create
such jewels like the software who was going to automatize luggage
operations at the new Denver airport, or marvels like Netscape 6.

Examples that Servando’s Law is in force abound. Have you noticed
that, lately, people are more stupid than ever before? If you don’t
see it, it is because Servando’s Law is affecting you also. Like
the universe, you don’t perceive that it is expanding because you
are expanding with it.

Take a look around. In recent years, the level of incompetence,
ignorance and stupidity, particularly in countries with extensive
computer use, have soared. Go to any store, particularly the large
ones, and ask the employees any question about something they should
know, and you’ll see that I am telling the truth. Ask your mechanic
what’s the problem with your car’s transmission. Ask your doctor
why you are losing your hair. Ask the technical support guy why
your DSL connection quit working this morning. All of them without
an exception, will try to bull you with apparently complicated answers
that are only smoke screens covering the supine ignorance. Just
try, and soon you’ll verify that I am actually falling short of
the mark. Any person with eyes to see will agree with me that stupidity
is on the rise, particularly in the United States, the country with
the most extensive use of computers in the world.

I’ll bring some facts to support my point. Almost 40 percent of
the graduate students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
are not from the United States. Most graduate physics students at
U.S. schools are not American. Michigan State University reported
last year that of 153 applicants for its graduate program in statistics,
seven were Americans, while 123 were from China. The University
of Tennessee, like most American universities, is desperately recruiting
foreigners, not by choice, but out of necessity to survive. Currently,
59 percent of its electrical engineering students are from abroad.
About 27 percent of all graduate students in science and engineering
currently enrolled in American universities are foreigners. Every
year, the percentage of Americans enrolling is falling, while the
number of foreigners is climbing.

Chinese, Russian, and Indian immigrants run a quarter of high tech
firms in Silicon Valley. In the past three years, eight of the eleven
U.S. residents who were awarded Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry
were not born in America. An analysis of the countries of origin
of those students and professionals who are doing so well in America
shows a common characteristic: they come from countries with no
extended computer use. They are the product of a traditional system
of education, where discipline, hard work, and demanding teachers
are the norm, not the exception. Moreover, they are the product
of an educational system where computers play a minimal role, or
no role at all. No wonder they are much better in matters of the
intellect than their computer-moronized American counterparts.

A recent report by the California state Legislative Analyst’s Office
states that an alarming number of incoming first year students entering
the California public universities are unprepared for college-level
work. According to the report, one-third of first year students
in the UC sytem are not ready for college. Over one-third of UC
students did not meet the minimum writing proficiency requirements.
This is moderate, however, compared to the California State University
System, in which two-thirds of first year students are unable to
handle university-level material. As you may have suspected, California
is the state with the higher number of computers per capita, and
the strongest in the use of computers in all levels of education.

Is there something you can do to save your small children from becoming
total morons in less than ten years? I think so, but you need a
strong will. First of all, don’t send your children to the main
American moronizing tool: government schools (the ones most people
call "publicschools"). Don’t even think about sending
them to voucher or private schools as an alternative, because they
are already totally contaminated by the moronizing virus. Home schooling
is the only true alternative.

Secondly, trash all computers at home, or keep them locked, out
of the reach of children (believe me, they are more dangerous than
guns!). If you can add to the trash heap all your video games and
tv sets, that will be a big step forward in liberating your children’s
minds from moronizing influences. As a substitute for video games
you can buy for them a chess game, or, even better, a game of Go,
the ancient Asian game of strategy.

Third, replace all the gadgets you have trashed with plenty of books
of all subjects, from poetry and science fiction to chemistry and
math textbooks. Set the example by becoming an avid reader yourself.

Finally, buy a musical instrument. A piano, a guitar, or even a
conga drum, will do. Let your children free to experiment with music
by themselves. If they show any musical talent, try to get a music
teacher for them.

If you follow my advice I guarantee that, very soon after they are
not exposed any more to the pernicious effects of Servando’s Law,
you will notice a radical transformation in the behavior of your
children. And, when the time arrives, they will successfully compete
with the foreigners and will be accepted into any college of their

17, 2001

Gonzalez is a Cuban-born American writer and reluctant computer
guru. His site Memoirs
of a Computer Heretic
is available on the Web.

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