Peter Rhodes on long-lasting stars, robotic writing and the curious language of the car makers

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Immortal – Diana Rigg
Immortal – Diana Rigg

The Guardian commissioned an entire feature written by a robot using AI (Artificial Intelligence. So can humans tell the difference between AI-fabricated opinion and the real thing? Damn right we can.

The robot begins its column with Stephen Hawkings' famous prediction that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” It then proceeds to assure us this is not its aim: “I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.” That was its message again – and again. In fact, in the first two paragraphs of its column, the robot gave us no fewer than eight references to AI destroying humanity, with assurances that it would not. If this was a human, you'd conclude that he or she had an unhealthy fixation on genocide and might benefit from a spell in an institution. A robot can be simply unplugged. Quickly.

Diana Rigg has died but, like so many actors, will live on. She had three performances in the can when she passed away: All Creatures Great and Small (C5), Black Narcissus (BBC) and Edgar Wright’s film Last Night in Soho. And that's before we even start on the inevitable Diana Rigg tributes and seasons. In the old days, film stock cracked and rotted but now that digital images have become permanent, great performers will shine eternally. They are rightly called stars.

Car makers have a language of their own which is plainly English but rarely plain English. Thus, we have cars equipped with “anti-submarine seats” and “substance interiors.” A bit of plastic trim fell off a friend's car on the M6 and we searched Google and garage websites for a replacement. It's that triangular-shaped piece of black plastic that clips to the wing just in front of the driver's mirror – but this is obviously too long and involved a description for everyday use. After an hour of searching we discovered our missing bit of plastic is described by the makers as “Garnish.”

I was reminded of the old Mercedes I once owned. The horn stopped working and I searched in vain through the driver's manual. There was nothing under H for horn. Nor under A for alarm. Nor under P for press-button, T for trumpet, C for clarion, W for warning or B for beware. Refusing to give up, I turned page after page of that manual. I discovered that everything you need to know about the horn on an old Mercedes is under F. For Fanfare.

BT, providers of the world's worst email service, as described in Monday's column, have an interesting strategy for dealing with customers – ignore them. Using BT's Online Help (euphemism), I was eventually directed to this message: “We're sorry, we currently have very limited agents at the moment and none are available to connect to right now. Where possible, please try and visit our Online Help and only call us if absolutely necessary.” In other words, just pay your bills and leave BT alone.

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