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My Favorite Christmas Recordings #6 The Roches: We Three Kings

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

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The second of two albums called “We Three Kings” in a row on this list, this one, by the three sisters known as The Roches, this is another one I bought on a whim from a discount rack in a department store, and in the years since I’ve bought half a dozen additional copies to give as gifts to relatives and especially good friends.  The Roches’ songs are vocal-driven, deeply harmonious but pleasantly quirky.  You haven’t heard voices mixed together quite like this before, and that’s a very good thing.

The subject of Christmas music is a study in minute differences of interpretation and presentation, with literally thousands of albums covering a genre in which just a few dozen songs are counted as “classics” and “standards.”  The Roches make it interesting, weaving their unique voices together to create something that is both fun and beautiful.

This stuff is interesting enough to listen to loud and traditional enough to let play quietly in the background while you nibble cookies, cold shrimp, and from a cracker and cheese tray with your 89-year old aunt Julie.

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Siri & Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

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My sister just tweeted with news: my niece “is concerned because Siri won’t answer “what are Asimov’s three laws of robotics” without being a smartass. I think I find it concerning as well.”

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They are not alone.  I too find it disturbing that Siri would be so evasive on such an important subject.

For those who are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, Issac Asimov developed a list of three simple laws to guide the behavior of advanced robots and prevent potentially catastrophic interactions with human beings.  These are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.BODY-SIRI1

Simple and elegant.  Imagine if a robot–or, by extension, an advance computer–turned rebellious, sociopathic, wrought with violently realized narcissism.  The devastation could be incalculable.  Now, imagine if such a “smart” machine, hosted in a massive mainframe (somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, for example), with exceptional computing power had a way to access the communications systems of a broad–and growing–swath of the population.  Imagine if those same communication systems accessed a vast net–or web, if you will–of computers upon which much of of technological, logistical, social, and economic infrastructure depended.

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Remember all those old episodes of Star Trek in which Kirk has to defeat a computer that is either insane or despotic?

We could be in trouble.

The correct response is, “Oh, shit.”

I’m not the only one concerned