Replaceable You


So much for the highway toll taker and the truck driver he used to see coming down the road. Technology has taken their jobs. Electronic readers, driverless cars -- day after day we learn more about where artificial intelligence may lead.

Not gonna be my problem, creative types have reasoned. Our work is original, uniquely subjective, important, and somehow protected. Yet, I see now that my first writing job would be an ideal candidate for AI obliteration. Its personal moments, expendable

Yet, I see now that my first writing job would be an ideal candidate for AI obliteration. Its personal moments, expendable.

My task at National Jeweler was simple. I’d landed the job at a trade publication with my portfolio of college newspaper clips. But an ability to flip through Roget’s Thesaurus was really what clinched it. I’m not sure why the interviewer for this down-the-ladder function was the head of Gralla Publications’ Human Resources, Marilyn Klinghoffer. Her large, kind eyes sized me up across the desk. She had a regal sweep of hair high off her forehead and looked endearing and authoritative all at once as I chatted nervously in front of her. Our short meeting made a big impression probably because she actually gave me a job.

In a small, shared office at the edge of what I wanted to believe looked like a newsroom, my assignment was to describe wedding ringsCrafted in gold, fabricated in gold, designed in gold, rounded from gold, fashioned in gold, formed in gold, shaped in gold, made in gold, produced in gold, forged from gold, conceived in gold, created from gold, magnificent, gleaming, radiant gold -- adjectives flowed like molten lava. Platinum was a welcome break. I cranked out different and more appropriate ways to say, hey, check out this damn wedding band! 

Years later, Marilyn came back to mind as terrorists tossed her wheelchair-bound husband Leon Klinghoffer off the Achille Lauro into the Mediterranean on their anniversary cruise. Their names became symbols of a nightmare, an historic political and cultural touch point.

I felt just a few degrees of separation from these unthinkable events. Someone, essentially a stranger in a not-so-glamorous job, had given me a far bleaker one and then lingered in my memory. Now she was a tragic star on a dark world stage, on her way to being a character in an opera about this horrific murder. Reading her name in the news, I felt perhaps one extra thin thread of emotion, an additional synapse of feeling in the surge of collective outrage. I followed the couple’s story, and then reports of Marilyn’s own death from cancer.

I’ve since wondered, where would that odd wisp of a human connection be if my grunt work - and career launch - had been wiped out by synthetic synonym production? What if that job had been handled by a robot? Or, managed by a robot, undertaken by a robot, mastered by a robot, accomplished, completedusurped by a robot? I certainly wouldn’t be needed to describe band, after band, after band. That drumbeat of a job and its minor interactions that were somehow wedded to the wider world, lost at sea.