There was an image that flashed across the TV screen Sunday afternoon. I can’t be certain but it might have been an ad for IBM’s artificial intelligence app, Watson. “Hello. I am Watson,” a voice intones at the end, a voice that sounds like what a computer calculates a human would sound like. You would think a company that the traitorous HAL computer was based on would want to get away from sounding like a HAL computer, but these are funny times.
The image whizzed by quickly, in sequence with other images flashing so fast they risked giving one a seizure, which, come to think of it, may be part of Watson’s master plan against the humans.
The image was of a man standing in the middle of a dimly lit control room, computer screens and monitors blinking around him, people at consoles, busy, busy busy. He stands there in a plain, white button-down shirt, open at the neck, no tie, his hands on his hips, legs slightly apart. As the control room buzzes around him and the workers monitor some emerging crisis (revolt of the AI robots?), the man is a bastion of calm.
The image lasted only a second, but I thought to myself: “This. This is what I aspire to.”
I want to be the man in the room with his hands on his hips, and not in a swishy way, nor with my hands balled into fists like I’m Charles Atlas, but sturdy and confident. A man who seems to say, “Neckties are for chumps or for strangling terrorists who make the mistake of infiltrating this facility, which happened this morning, and I didn’t even crease my shirt, though I did ruin a tie. It was my assistant Barlow’s tie, because I don’t wear them, not being in the least bit chumpish.”
He is a man who has seen many things, who has faced down his fears and insecurities. He no longer sees anything sinister in the rows and rows of perfectly straight teeth everywhere he turns, the result of aggressive societal pressures for cosmetic orthodontics. They are now to him just pretty smiles, and people smile at him. Because they respect how he stand like this, with his hands on his hips.
He never says the word “akimbo.”
He smells like wood shavings and the distant whiff of a fifties-style diner when you’re really, really hungry.
His hair colour is described as “nugget.” It should make no sense but everyone agrees it’s the only word that works.
He is a man who commands respect, simply by being there. Everyone else is working, while he simply stands, inspiring them, but not actually working. I want to be the man not working too. That’s the dream.
But he is thinking, always thinking. And inspiring. He thinks, “How can I inspire these people to continue working feverishly to contain hugely complex geopolitical crises that threaten the very existence of mankind while I stand here, earning a vastly superior salary and enumerating in my head under what scenarios I would, in fact, wear a necktie.”
If he did wear a necktie, he would wear it superbly, with the perfect dimple in the knot, and not hanging to his groin, like Donald Trump. In fact, that may be what is occupying them so intently in this command centre: Donald Trump’s tie has seized control of the White House. It is an artificial intelligence tie. For an artificial intelligence president.
Or maybe he is the guy who manages the guys who drive the snowploughs. I want to be that guy, especially in April. What a cushy job.
He’s the kind of man who uses words like “breakneck,” “providence,” “bellwether,” “cacophony.” He knows how to kiss a dame. He says “dame,” and not ironically.
But he doesn’t have to speak. Everyone simply knows what he wants and that the smallest mistake will result not only in the collapse of civilization, where the only form of currency is abandoned shopping carts, but also in his disappointment, which is worse. For without civilization, there can be no rooms filled with monitors to stand within, no crisp, open-neck shirts to wear, no lackeys to be worshipped by. In short: a tragedy.
If I were the man standing in the control room with his hands on his hips, I definitely wouldn’t be watching TV on a Sunday afternoon.