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Backstory, because if you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know there’s always one with me. Today will be no different, save for the fact that backstory IS the story, albeit in a rather circuitous fashion, both figuratively and literally.

I’m actually on a short vacation, attending my 50th high school reunion in a rather remote and small borough in northern PA. Yesterday, I drove up from my home in NC – basically an 11-hour drive – accompanied by my dog Finn. So if the lines get a little blurred as I recount my tale, please forgive me. It was a long day.

Let me preface this by saying that while I’m a technology freak, I’m not buying in on AI yet. And that I sincerely believe by the time it truly comes of age, I will be long since departed. And based on my experience with it yesterday, that doesn’t make me sad Timmy. I’m gonna leave it to you to sort this mess out. Consider it my gift to you.

A bad sign

So Finn and I went wheels up around 6:30 am, full of hope, ready for another excellent adventure. I poked my childhood home address into my iPhone and the route began to calculate. The Waze had to think for a minute, but as we neared the end of my driveway, it was already shouting out directions. 

But they were wrong. Oh, yeah, they would have gotten me outta the ‘hood, but kinda the long way. This is what we refer to as an ‘omen’ Timmy. A bad one. And this isn’t the first time The Waze and I have been down this road together. At every turn it screamed “Recalculating” at me. If its AI was worth a tinker’s damn, it would have remembered how we got out of the driveway the last 100 times we exited there, and that I didn’t need to be told how to get to the first major road every 50 feet. 

Then, for some unknown reason, it switched from the map view to just directions. Lots of them. Most hundreds of miles away. With arrows bent in every direction, hollering at me, telling to turn this way and that every 13 seconds. Less than a mile from the house, I turned into the parking lot of the local Bowl-O-Rama, trying to sort it all out.

Sadly, I did not succeed. And seeing as I’d made this trip several times over the past three and a half decades, I had a pretty good idea where I was going. Plus, I wasn’t fond of any of the routes The Waze had suggested, so I killed it and Finn and I decided we’d make our own adventure.

A road less traveled

That worked pretty well until we got way north and found that some new roads had apparently been built since I last visited 10 years prior. Seems 220 went a lot farther than it used to go. And the further we went, the more it bent to the east, taking us where we didn’t want to go.

I looked at Finn, she at me, and we decided we needed help. Ugh. She suggested that we try The Google’s AI this time since it screamed less. So we pulled off around Port Matilda and poked in “Emporium, PA.” I knew how to get to my old hometown from there. There were several routes and being as we were 9-1/2 hours in, we opted for the shortest.

Things went smoothly for 30 minutes or so, and then it pointed us to something called “Wycoff’s Run.” Now I remembered that name from my youth. I did not, however, remember that the road had more twists and turns than The Tail of the Dragon around Maggie Valley, NC. Maximum speed was 35 mph, and believe you me, that was pushing it for about 90% of that 10-mile stretch.

And it was absolutely beautiful. Most of the time the road ran beside a sizable crik, and had I not been so ready to get off the road, Finn and I would have stopped and enjoyed.

Robots don’t get roadsick

But this also points out another shortcoming of the AI driving that map. Any AI worth its salt would have told us that yes, this route is the shortest, but by gum, you best not be the least bit queasy if you want to go down this path.

And to boot, about halfway through this leg, things got interesting. The Google just stopped. The spinny thing came up and it repeatedly indicated it was recalculating. Then it popped up a map of Main Street in Emporium, yet before it broke, we were still a good 20 miles out. Now had I not grown up in that neck of the woods, I probably would’ve freaked at this point, figuring The Google had just plopped us into an episode of The Twilight Zone. But Finn and I were chill and stayed the course, Timmy.

About ten minutes later, we hit the end of Wykoff’s Run. PA 120. Straight road. No lines painted on it, but a sign indicated the right way to Emporium, which was good because The Google was still recalculating. It caught up about five minutes later, confirming that we were indeed on PA 120 and indeed headed in the right direction. Thanks for that.

After we made it to Emporium, I couldn’t figure out how to kill The Google, so I just left it on, which proved to be lots of fun for the last 20 minutes of the trip. It kept telling me to flip a uey at every imaginable cross road, most of which were non-existent. Finn and I just laughed.

All of that to say that nope, if the AI behind the maps is representative of the AI as a whole, it ain’t there yet Timmy. And I’ll be hard pressed to trust it to write a blog, or make backgrounds magically appear where there are none, or do whatever menial tasks it’s designed to do, much less trust it to drive my car.

And I need to see if I can find an old folding roadmap for the trip back to NC.

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