Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
“Colossus: The Forbin Project”, is a great science fiction movie from the late 1960s which is a favourite of mine. It tells the story of a scientist, Charles Forbin, who builds a supercomputer for the president of the United States. The computer, Colossus, will control America’s nuclear arsenal under the thinking that if every country knows that the US can’t be psychologically bluffed anymore, they won’t dare attack it. Nobody thinks to test the damn thing before they turn it on, and when they do, Colossus announces that things would be much better if it ran everything, and it means everything. It then suggests that anyone who disagrees with it might like to discuss the matter with the business end of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Much hijinks ensue.
I’m reminded of the movie every time I read or hear a discussion about technology and robots replacing human jobs, which is beginning to happen so often that I suspect it’s the robots writing the pieces. But every time I see it, I always think an Irish Colossus would work quite well, if only because it would blow the whistle on so much of the spoofery of our elected leaders.
Take the latest observation from the Healy-Rae Party on the matter of the impairing effect or not of three pints of Guinness. To his credit, Danny Healy-Rae is not much different from many other backbenchers in both houses, shooting their mouths off looking for attention. The country looks over in their direction, rolls its eyes, hopes that the BBC or the late night US comedians don’t notice, and we all carry on about our business.
We’re missing a trick here.
See, if we had our very own automated Colossus-like RoboTaoiseach, it could approach the whole situation differently. First of all, it would recognise that Deputy Healy-Rae has been sent to the Dail by the people of Kerry, and those good people have a right to be heard.
Then it could maybe rapidly telephone poll the good deputy’s flock. Do they actually want to be able to get behind the wheel of their cars with a few jars on-board? If half of them back up their elected representative, RoboTaoiseach could then announce a pilot scheme, where drink driving thresholds in Kerry could be reduced for six months to see what happens. Finally, RoboTaoiseach could organise checkpoints along the Kerry border to ensure that the experiment doesn’t accidentally spill, pardon the pun, into the rest of the country.
We then sit back and watch. Maybe it works fine. Maybe he’s right, and the issue of late night rural transport is resolved with only minor issues. Or maybe late night Kerry turns in “Mad Max in Killarney” and we’re stacking up the bodies, all victims of The Healy-Rae Law, which of course RoboTaoiseach will naturally call it. Credit where it’s due.
Either way, we learn a valuable lesson. Firstly, that the people of a county and the person they send to Dublin will be listened to.
Secondly, imagine the wave of sheer terror that would sweep across our politicos if they thought that RoboTaoiseach would actually attempt to at least test drive every attention seeking utterance they made. Even worse, making sure the voters knew that the latest wheeze was the initiative of senator X or deputy Y.
Ah, but they’re a wily bunch, you say. They’ll just keep calling for more spending on things.
A demand for more money for Bus Eireann workers from Deputy X? Sure. No problem.
When RoboTaoiseach deducts an extra €1.50 a week from every PAYE workers’ payslip, and deducts €1.50 from every pensioner’s weekly payment, and proudly declares it the Deputy X Bus Eireann Tax to build up the fund to deliver on his demand, we might see a change of heart.
Scrap the water charges? Easy-peasy: here’s the Deputy Murphy General Taxation Water Levy as ordered.
Across the land politicians would start sweating every time a microphone was put under their nose for fear that RoboTaoiseach might hear them and try to implement whatever they spew out, consequences and all.
All that guff about reforming the Seanad and neutrality and a right to housing? Watch the looks of sheer horror on their faces as RoboTaoiseach starts reading through Fianna Fail and Fine Gael manifestos and actually implementing what’s in them.
Watch RoboTaoiseach, listening to a rural politician complain about poor mobile phone service in his parish start assembling a mast to resolve the issue, and then take the deputy to task l on the floor of the house when the same deputy objects to masts being built in the parish.
There’d be political trousers destroyed everywhere.
Eventually though you could see Irish politicians come to love RoboTaoiseach the same way they love the county manager system. They’d almost certainly end up being delighted at being able to go home to the parish and nod sagely at their disappointed constituents.
“Sure look it,” they’d say, eyes darting around to make sure there was no RoboTaoiseach drone hovering overhead listening out for rogue political promises.
“Of course I want to get the county billions without paying any taxes. This parish deserves nothing less,” he’d whisper.
“But that bloody robot up in Dublin…”
Just in case you’re wondering, this column was not written by a robot…was not written by a robot…was not written…