Welcome to the Nightmare of AI

If you think that artificial intelligence is a threat you will have to face in the future, think again. It is already here, and it is a nightmare.

Under the category of “No good deed goes unpunished,” a couple of weeks ago I volunteered to guarantee the lease of an Afghan refugee family whom our church has been supporting for over a year. The father is hard working but only earns $16/hour as a security guard. Our group of three Episcopal churches helped them find housing, guaranteed the rent, and secured a housing grant from the local jurisdiction to make the rent more affordable. Now they are moving to another apartment due to rodent infestation where they live.

Most landlords require a minimum income of three times the rent to qualify for an apartment. There are five in the family, and most landlords also require a family of this size to rent a 3-bedroom unit. His annual income amounts to $32,500, which means he must find an apartment renting for no more than $812 including utilities. How many apartments are there in the Washington metro area where you can rent a 3-bedroom unit for that amount and that are in safe neighborhoods? Zero. Ditto for 2-bedroom units. Washington is one of the highest cost areas in the country–especially for housing. We were able to get them started only because our church guaranteed the rent and because we were able to secure for them a housing grant.

After an exhaustive search for a better apartment, they finally found a landlord who would rent them a 2-bedroom apartment in the same neighborhood, allowing the family’s two oldest children to remain in the same school. The problem: The cheapest 2-bedroom apartment was $2,200/month, compared to the rent of around $2,000 they were currently paying. Because the housing grant reduced the effective rent to around $1,300/month, they were able to get by, but it was still above of the $812 maximum “affordable rent” based on standard underwriting policies. The only way the family could rent the new apartment was to have a financially qualified guarantor, who would cosign the lease. Our church had guaranteed the rent for their first apartment, but the church funds had been exhausted. Someone had to step forward.

Hey, no problem. This was not my first experience providing financial support for immigrant families; and of the several families I had helped, not once had I been disappointed or been taken advantage of. I considered it a risk worth taking.

I was directed to go online to the website of the apartment complex, which was owned and managed by one of Washington’s largest real estate companies. The rental application required a prospective guarantor to submit the last three pay stubs by scanning or “dragging” them into the company’s website. I haven’t worked for 20 years and have no pay stubs. The management reported back that those were the rules: no pay stubs, no guarantor. When I adamantly protested and argued that using my federal income tax returns should suffice, they reluctantly agreed. I took a photo of a recent tax return and emailed it to them.

Rejected again. First, the material had to be submitted through their website, not by email, and second, the company’s website did not accept photos. I hopped in the car and drove to the complex. A pleasant leasing attendant helped me fill out the proper forms on their website, converted the photo of my tax return to a PDF, and entered that for me on their website. Done.

At last, a solution!

Nope. Rejected again. Just because the information was on my federal tax return did not mean that it was true. They had to have absolute proof from the financial institutions where Embry and I kept our money. Company policy required independent verification by some outside company, which would be allowed to enter the financial institution’s website where our investments were and copy and verify the information from our accounts. For this to happen all I would have to do was provide my social security number, username, account number, birthday, and password.

What? I was required to allow a company, which I know nothing about, to view and have access to all the funds in all our accounts?  They had to be kidding.  I recently posted a blog about how hackers got into my bank account at PNC Bank and came within a hair’s breadth or stealing every penny I had.

No, they argued, this was completely legit and is now a common practice. I reluctantly provided them full access—password, username, account number, birthday, and social security number—but only for one company, Fidelity Investments, and gritted my teeth. Only an idiot would agree to such a requirement. But at least the Afghan family would not be out in the street.

Two days passed. Rejected again. Fidelity refused to give them the information. I say, “Fidelity refused,” but what I now understand is that the Fidelity’s computer refused. In any event, good for Fidelity.

During this ordeal, which is now well into its third week, I have not been allowed to talk to a single human being who has the authority to review the material and make an independent, informed judgement. It is now all done by computers. All information must be scanned or “dragged” into a special website. The answer from the computer is the only answer that counts. Email is not allowed nor is any communication with any human being who could review the material and make an informed decision.

 I volunteered to bring to their office hard copies of all the investment and bank account information that they required. I would permit them to make copies and scan them into their website.  Not allowed. Only electronic copies from now on.

So here we are in 2024 entering the world of AI where in this instance no human being is allowed to make  a decision or judgement based on the facts. The determination will now be made by computers. Their decision will be final. No exceptions even if it means that a struggling Afghan family will become homeless and out on the street.

Anything wrong with this picture?

So welcome to the world of artificial intelligence. And it is just the beginning. How long will it be before  everywhere no humans will be involved in making decisions, just computers?


More to follow about what finally happened to the Afghan family…


Yikes, the Moths Are Attacking! Double Yikes, the Ants Are Taking Over!

We have lived in our apartment (which we love) overlooking the National Zoo for almost nine years in a bug free environment. Then a few months ago when I took out my sweaters to brace for colder fall weather, five out of six sweaters were riddled with what looked like bullet holes. Good heavens! Where did all the holes come from? It looked like the sweaters had been worn by a Mafia informant who got snuffed out by the mob. So what, I concluded, I love those sweaters and I am going to keep wearing them anyway, even if I look to others like an aging panhandler. Besides they are a good conversation starter or maybe even a new fashion setter. You know how rich kids wear jeans with holes in the knees? This could be a new fashion statement for old folks.

 Embry immediately looked at her sweaters and, like mine, most were ruined. Her favorite wool pullover hat had a gaping hole, but like me and my sweaters, she is still wearing it. We make a stunning couple who someone who did not know us might conclude we came from a homeless shelter.

We assumed the culprits were moths but had not seen any flying around. What to do? The damage had been done.  I immediately bought something like 50 moth traps and put them everywhere I could.

Then the following week we happened to notice a strange, black patch of particles on the oriental rug in our living room after we had moved an easy chair, which was covering up a portion of the rug. We immediately looked under the rug and to our horror saw tiny worms crawling all over the place. Baby worms turn into moths at some point. Why hadn’t we noticed? The large living room rug was partially destroyed and the slightly smaller dining room rug not far behind. We called the apartment management who sent up an exterminator, who upon seeing the damage on the rug, shook his head and shrugged.

We were under attack!

We ended up taking both rugs to an oriental rug specialist, who washed and repaired them by cutting out the damaged parts and reducing their size (for an exorbitant price), and the rugs are resting back in place, bug free for now. In the meantime, I regularly check the moth traps I had hung in every closet and at other places moths might hide. That was several weeks ago. So far, I have found only one moth captured in the traps. What? We know they are here. Where are they? Stealth creatures. How smart could these moths be  to avoid the multiple traps I had set out in every closet and nook and cranny?  After several more days passed moth free,  I concluded that miraculously we somehow had solved the moth problem. Then a couple of days ago one flew out when I put on my favorite wool hat.


But moths are not the main problem anymore. Having never seen a crawling insect in our apartment for the entire time we have lived here, our apartment is now also infested with tiny ants. They are mainly in the utility closet next to the kitchen, which contains a washer/dryer and is where we feed out beloved feline, Oreo. Embry discovered the ants by chance, thinking she was sweeping up tiny dirt particles until the particles started to wiggle and move around. These creatures are infinitesimally small; and without a magnifying glass you can’t even be sure what the kind of insect they are, but with a close look using a microscope, they are ants alright. I glanced at Oreo’s water dish. Two of the hideous tiny invaders were swimming laps, gracefully I might add.

I recall the story in the Book of Genesis about God sending ten plagues to convince the Egyptians to free the Israelites. Could this be a sign?

Thus began our heroic campaign to kill the ants. Of course, the obvious thing to do would be to call the exterminator back, but I had little confidence in him, and besides, the ant problem took on the aura of a Fight to the Finish. Humans versus insects. Man versus nature. Who is the superior, we humans or a tiny creature with a brain that could not be larger than a grain of salt? We would show them!

This all started over two weeks ago. We have now gone through one large spray can of “Raid Roach and Ant Killer.” The protocol for us has been unrelenting diligence and determination—spraying with Raid the infested area and sweeping up the creatures several times a day followed by a body count. We would show them who’s boss. The first week the body count for each of the three or four daily sweeping routines was something like 60-70 ants, most still crawling though probably in agony. We would dump them into the sink, turn on the water and flush them down the drain. Four or five hours later, we would sweep again, followed by a body count, then another sweep before we went to bed. The body count did not change much during the first week though an increasing number of ants were dead, outnumbering those who were still trying to crawl. We moved our cat’s food and water dish into the guest bathroom so that the poison would not kill him, a noble action which resulted in the spread of the tiny beasts into that area of the apartment as well.

At the end of the first week—with a total body count of several hundred ants—we noticed something even more sinister. Along with the ants, there were even tinier, slim, white creatures that looked like worms. Worms? Where did they come from?  They must be the ant offspring and were evidence that the ant army was producing reinforcements at a rate that would surely overcome us. The stakes had suddenly gotten higher. We were killing them, but not fast enough since they kept producing new recruits.

Where were they coming from? We checked the floor behind a large utility shelf in the closet where Embry thought she could detect a small crack in the baseboard. That is where they must be coming from—at least that is what we thought. Humans outsmarted by ants? No way! We immediately covered the tiny crack with an epoxy sealer. That would show them. The army would be trapped in the wall and perish. Humans 1, ants 0.

Except today, almost three weeks after we had sealed off their clandestine opening for reinforcements, the awesome creatures are still managing to creep out from someplace. But from where? Not as many ants before. But the war continues.

Does any of this ring a bell? Ukraine and Russia? Israel and Gaza? Vietnam?

Embry and I continue to remain hopeful that we can prove that we are smarter than these tiny ants. But it also raises questions as to how smart our species really   is and how good our survival skills are. According to Wikipedia “modern ants” have been around on the planet Earth for 168 million years. Moths and butterflies have been around for over 200 million years. Human-like creatures? Only a few million at most, and Homo sapiens only about 200,000 years. We “modern humans”? Only a few thousand.

Despite the evidence concerning our failure so far, I still argue that the ants are not anywhere near as smart as we are. So what, if they have been around for hundreds of millions of years? Look at what we Homo sapiens have accomplished compared to these little guys in a very short period. High definition, giant screen TV. Electric cars. Smart phones. They don’t have any of this stuff.

However, I can imagine one of the ants responding, “Yeah, you are right, we do not have this stuff, but you humans also have huge arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, which could and probably will blow all of you up some day. Plus, you have trashed our beautiful planet and are responsible for climate warming, and that is even affecting us ants. And now you have AI to deal with. And unlike our species where except for our queen, we are all equal, you humans are anything but.  There are some of you that have a lot of money but many more with very little. Odds are that another 100 million years from now we will still be going strong. You humans will have long since disappeared.”

I had to admit that had he been able to talk the  ant would have made a point. What are the chances that we humans will outlast the ants?

I would not bet on it.