Fake intelligence gives faulty memory of our vacation

I went, hat in hand, to the artificial intelligence feature on Google Docs to find out how my wife and I enjoyed our weeklong vacation in San Clemente last week and, as you might expect from a form of intelligence that relies heavily on Google Search, its account was wildly inaccurate and bore no resemblance to the week my wife and I enjoyed in the seaside town.

It neglected to address my daily grueling walk along the Amtrak rails and up through the state park, which left me a little light-headed and reminded me of telling my doctor at my last annual checkup that, no, I don’t get dizzy except for when I launch myself too quickly out of my recliner. Turns out I also experienced a bit of vertigo when trudging up a half-mile incline slipping on loose scree that was like walking up a slide covered in ball bearings.

While resting briefly at an intersection inside the park trying to reorient myself, a park ranger and his assistant waited in their cart, and when I looked at them the ranger said, “We were just waiting to see which direction you were going to tip over.” I laughed and strode away with steady confidence. Damned 50-year-old whippersnapper ranger.

Nor did artificial intelligence’s story note that the reading material I had brought had some unfortunate resonance with me, including “A Walk in the Park: The True Story of a Spectacular Misadventure in the Grand Canyon” by Kevin Fedarko, whose works on the outdoors have appeared in National Geographic, the New York Times and Esquire.

I expected a more harrowing tale, which did come with the initial leg of the hike with Fedarko and his companion utterly unprepared for the journey and ended with the near-death of one of the hikers; the balance of the trip was accompanied by more experienced hikers along with more efficient preparation. That part of the book was great, but its flow was interrupted with frequent diversions into the history of the canyon’s early explorers, which is fine if you wanted a sprawling saga of the exploration of the Grand Canyon, but irritating if you just, as I did, wanted to read about the author’s crazed and perilous experience.

AI neglected to factor in the part about how I got my hair cut at Revival, a place on Avenida Del Mar and the only place I will trust with my head, thanks to its sole proprietor Kate, a delightful person and a rare liberal in San Clemente, where just  a couple of doors down is a nail salon that proudly, and apparently successfully, advertises itself as “proud to be the first and only Caucasian nail salon in the city.” I tried to imagine a business in Long Beach making such a boast, but I failed to.

And not a word did artificial intelligence devote to my fondness for the coyotes that live in the large arroyo outside our condo. Any time a siren can be heard, the canyon explodes with the yipping of coyotes, and I was happy for a visit by a handsome pair of coyotes and their four-month-old pup.

In fact, all the AI claimed we did on our vacation was sunbathe and surf at the beach and visit the charming shops in the town, none of which we did. I mean, it sounded like a good time, but it wasn’t close to our experience. The moral is don’t trust artificial intelligence with your holidays.

What I’ve been listening to

Despite a couple of dire warnings from readers about the dangers of walking while listening to podcasts and audiobooks, I have continued to listen to both on my hikes in town and in such faraway locales as San Clemente.

My latest listen is “Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos and Survival,” by Spencer Schneider, an attorney who squandered 23 years of his life attending “School,” a secretive group that studied and practiced a philosophy (“The Work”) that was purported to be thousands of years old and whose practitioners were said to have included Buddha and Jesus Christ. Schneider finally escaped the group in 2012.

The adherents included mostly upper-class white-collar professionals who faithfully engaged in and fell victim to arranged marriages, rampant sex, forced labor, swindled inheritances and “fight clubs” (a secret within a secret), all orchestrated by demented leaders.

It’s a tawdry and strange tale which is indeed unbelievable, though probably true.

The author is currently being sued by the school, now known as the Odyssey Study Group, for defamation. Truth is a defense, and soon maybe we’ll likely know for sure about the veracity of this fascinating and creepy tale.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.