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Artificial Intelligence & 1874

February 25, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

What Would Mark Twain Say?

Having snuggled comfortably into the 19th century as an impressionist of Mark Twain, I maintain a semblance of comfort through eye-to-eye contact. As an example, I had the luxury of watching this year’s Super Bowl on television with 30 or so old high school pals who shouted their prophesies above the humdrum of the paid announcers…

“Reba McEntire is going to hold that last note like a grudge, just watch! Take the over and watch the game a richer man!” (And he was right.)

Riding a time machine back to 1874 when the super-information highway was the Mississippi River, our mutual friend Mark Twain is said to have been the very first person in the world to apply a typewriter to literature…

“They say The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first partially typed manuscript.  It was a Remington, and it threw me into such fits of profanity that I found I was losing my morals, so I gave it to Howells, who hadn’t any morals.” 

We have to believe that Tom & Huck might look a little different to us today if Twain had access to artificial intelligence. And too, Twain’s good friend William Dean Howells might have been a little better off.

Add to that, Alexander Graham Bell bequeathed to Twain the first telephone in a private residence, but he took it out when he didn’t get any calls…

Personally, I have an aversion to AI because it has no thumbs, and I don’t pay much attention to anything that does not have, or had, thumbs. Besides, with not much time left on this curious planet, I’m confident I can get along quite well without AI helping me close my last chapters.

But getting back to Twain’s experience with the typewriter, he wrote from Florence in 1904, “In the beginning, a type-machine was a curiosity. The person who owned one was a curiosity too. But now it is the other way about: the person who does not own one is a curiosity.” 

Over his professional life, Mark Twain was a heat-seeker. He dreamed of being a titan of industry, and thank goodness he failed in those dreams, or we might never have met A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

As it is, the 18,000 published pages Twain left us are a product of his entrepreneurial excesses and failures. Then there is the dedication of his loving wife and editor, Olivia, and finally, we have the father of American literature.

As is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mark Twain…

“After a year or two I found the type-machine was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to Howells. He was reluctant, for he was suspicious of novelties, but I got him to believe things about the machine that I did not believe myself. He took it home, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered.”

Audio: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

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