Saturday, April 14, 2007

Artifical Intelligence

My TiVo thinks I'm an idiot. For those of you not familiar, I'll explain that TiVo, being the considerate household gadget that it is, will spend its day quietly recording television shows, movies, documentaries that it thinks I might like. It puts them in a folder labeled "TiVo Suggestions." It's like a little package waiting for me when I get home. Each day I come home, change clothes, feed the dog, and settle on the sofa with my special TiVo remote control. (See how I just made it sound like I leave the house every day? That was good, huh?) I first make sure that it has recorded all the shows that I asked it to record (I love it but I do not trust it) and then I check the suggestion folder.

And then I'm often crushed. I expected that TiVo would require some training, but I thought it would learn very quickly. It took me several weeks to convince it that I do not speak Spanish and therefore will not enjoy Spanish-language programming. In order to do this, I had to give a thumbs down to every program in Spanish it recorded. I felt a little bit bad about this. I'm sure some of those programs were very good and did not deserve a thumbs down. But I would not know, as I do not speak Spanish and needed to convince TiVo of that.

Once we finally got the language issue worked out, I then had to convince TiVo that I am not a 8-year old girl. I did not, oh, please, please, please want to it to tape That's So Raven. For the longest time didn't even know what the title meant. Something having to do with a girl named Hannah Montana was also out. It went through a phase where it recorded every Lifetime Afternoon Movie it could get its grubby electronic mitts on, and then it went on a reality show spree. Thumbs down. Thumbs down. Thumbs down. No, thanks, TiVo.

I thought perhaps I should attempt to teach it what I do like. I kind of thought all the Season Passes would help, but apparently not. So thumbs up to Law and Order, thumbs up to Independent Lens, thumbs up to reruns of the Gilmore Girls and to some travel porn on the Travel Channel. Cooking competitions? Yes! CourtTV? No!

But it seems that TiVo has considered all of this and decided that I still have lousy taste in television. I imagine it very earnestly trying to find things I might like. "What about this review of the 100 best video games?" it asks. "Boooooo," I say and pout. "I think you'd really like this show about dead girls whose killer went free. Don't you?" it says hopefully. "NO!" I say emphatically and scowl. "Charmed?" "THUMBS DOWN! THUMBS DOWN!"

It's not like my list of shows I'd like it to record gives me away as an idiot, I don't think. I have a season pass to Veronica Mars and Battlestar Galactica and Robin Hood, but I have Masterpiece Theatre and The American Experience in there, as well. I definitely have never recorded anything having to do with video games. But still, it doesn't believe me.

I'm starting to think that the TiVo senses something deeper about me. I think it knows the truth: though I usually prefer to immerse myself in interesting ideas and challenging stories and enjoyable, well-crafted characters, I'm really just a television junkie who wants little more than to sit on the couch and pet my dog's ears and zone out. It knows I'm lazy. It knows that if I came across that show about the dead girl whose killer went free and there was nothing else on, I'd probably watch it.


Blogger Tom Bozzo said...

Once upon a time, I'd turned off a "sort by attention" feature in NetNewsWire (the mostly fine Mac RSS reader) because its efforts just made routinely visited blogs nigh-impossible to find in the feeds list. This TiVO business is arguably more annoying as its disk space is finite.

Every time I worry that computers will rise up and kill us all because every spec has improved by five or six orders of magnitude since I was in high school, and a couple more since the great AI-dystopia movies of ca. 1970, I remember that programmers have little idea of what to do with all that processing capability except lovingly render drop shadows under the mouse pointer (etc.); then I breathe easier for a little while...

8:41 PM  
Blogger Acre said...

Thankfully, TiVo deletes its suggestions if it needs the disc space. Still, I can't help thinking it's judging me a little bit when it makes those suggestions.

I'm completely willing to give over some of my decision-making to the machines. I rarely flip channels anymore. The first time it tells me no, it won't record that stupid program, though, I'm going to get nervous.

9:23 AM  

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