Can machines be smart? I ponder this question from time to time, usually after reading some science fiction (as opposed to SF or scifi or even fantasY,) but this time the cognition is prompted by the class of objects know as smart cellular telephones. These include the iPhoney, the Android, and the Winders. Of these two are clearly the smarts only of the slavemasters Apple and MegaHard but there is some ambiguity in the Android instruments so some consideration is warranted. For the other two we can simply acknowledge that a shackle cannot be smart.
It occurred however, that I might not be understanding the word smart properly, so I activated my trusty (LInux) dictionary client and inquired the meaning.
1. Causing a smart; pungent; pricking; as, a smart stroke or taste. [1913 Webster]
2. Keen; severe; poignant; as, smart pain. [1913 Webster]
3. Vigorous; sharp; severe. “Smart skirmishes, in which many fell.” –Clarendon. [1913 Webster]
4. Accomplishing, or able to accomplish, results quickly; active; sharp; clever. [Colloq.] [1913 Webster]
5. Efficient; vigorous; brilliant. “The stars shine smarter.” –Dryden. [1913 Webster]
6. Marked by acuteness or shrewdness; quick in suggestion or reply; vivacious; witty; as, a smart reply; a smart saying. [1913 Webster]
7. Pretentious; showy; spruce; as, a smart gown. [1913 Webster]
8. Brisk; fresh; as, a smart breeze. [1913 Webster]
Clearly I was indeed mistaken. The first and second meanings do apply to “smart” cellular telephones. They do cause a bad taste in ones mental mouth as well as pain. I also find mine highly frustrating in that it does everything I ask so poorly and incompetently. That fits with definition 3 since my expectations are casualties of the encounter.
Definition 4 applies in that the phone is relatively fas and gives me results. I often find those results inadequate and incompetent but that evidently has nothing to do with being smart. Definition 5, which is the one I was assuming, is clearly not applicable. I am at least a little bit brilliant, enough to recognize in others usually and I consistently find no brilliance in my phone. And damned little in the programmers. Nor can I attribute vigor or efficiency to the device. It does some of what I ask of it and never any more. In the same sense definition 6 clearly does not apply. Witty or shrewd it is not; if anything, the opposite. It is however, pretentious and showy both in its own appearance and the nonsense of how so may people use it as a display rather than an appliance. And lastly it is not at all fresh. It is stale and crotchety and cranky and moldy, at least in terms of being smart.
I do have to ask myself if the phone is “smarter” than most bogs? The answer is a resounding Yea! But that is a matter of a significant component of humanity trying very hard to expunge its own intelligence.