Sunday, May 4, 2014

Humor Kills

World famous smart guy, Stephen Hawking, recently opined on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. He warned that AI may end up being the very last thing human beings invent. His line of reasoning contained long run-on sentences filled with multi-syllabic scientific words which after a while I got tired of Googling. The bottom line is this, there is no way we can invent AI that won’t end up killing us all.

Meanwhile, over at the White House Correspondents Dinner last night, the very best argument for going full steam ahead with AI was on display…human intelligence. Yes, once a year, all of the very best and brightest of what Washington DC has to offer gather together in their best tuxedos and cocktail dresses for a night of self-congratulatory narcissism. The “nerd prom” has become the hottest ticket in town in recent years. Established in 1920, the WHCD used to be an event attended by the President and leading public figures from his administration along with all of the reporters assigned to cover them. It used to feature musical performances between courses from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. Starting in the mid-eighties a comedian was invited to host the event and it became a roast of the current president and administration. Somewhere along the way, people from Hollywood were invited, not to perform but rather just to attend and be seen with their favorite politicians. That’s probably when all the trouble started. Now it symbolizes for many the inappropriately cozy relationship that exists between politicians and the ostensibly adversarial press.

Of course humor is a subjective business. Whenever I watch the highlights of one of these things I get the sense that the jokes flow more naturally and with more bite when the President is a Republican. This is unavoidable when one considers that all of the joke-writers and 90% of the reporters in the room didn’t vote for the guy. Humor is easier when the jokes are on someone you can’t stand. But, it takes an entirely different set of comedic skills to rip apart a man who most of you worshiped as a transcendent, messianic figure 5 short years ago. But, from what I saw, some of it was actually pretty funny.

The thing is, I would rather the whole thing just go away. At least stop flooding the place with Hollywood types. Whatever happened to the intrepid reporter speaking truth to power? Whatever happened to the free press as a fourth branch of our government that exists simply to be a thorn in the side of the powerful? I prefer the press to be made up of the sort of men and women who would never receive an invite to something like the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Maybe one day in the future there will be an artificially intelligent computer program tasked with writing the jokes for the evening. Humor kills, right?