IN DEFENCE OF THE LANGUAGE LAB

Jean-Marc Vary

Abstract


One evening not too long ago, a well-known American TV news analyst just back from his summer holiday travels was giving wry consolation to less fortunate stay-at-home viewers by sharing his opinions on a few of the risks today's vacationer might encounter upon venturing beyond his own computer-free back yard. To support some pithy comments on the universal phenomenon of the dehumanizing influence of machines upon us all, he drew upon his own recent experience at a large Italian airport while on his way home. It appears that he and a large number of other passengers, having had their seats confirmed on the capacity booked return flight, arrived at the airport check-in counter only to be told that the computer had classified them all as being on "stand-by" status, with the result that their seats were already occupied. In the ensuing clamor of protests, accusations and threats, the harried airline clerk, after vainly attempting to obtain redress from the computer, turned toward the increasingly hostile crowd and raising hands to heaven blurted out in self-preservation: "I am nothing, the machine decides!" This underlies once again the utter frustration and feeling of impotence many human beings have felt in this day and age when faced with the apparent impossibility of communication with computers.

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