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I remember well the first time I worked at a company that used corporate e-mail. Instead of the usual development process that involved weekly meetings with users, between which we wrote specs and coded deliverables, this new messaging technology was going to streamline everything for us.

Unfortunately, the e-mail discussions became so fluid and nebulous that progress was paralyzed by the notes flying back and forth. Worse, a whole new type of project politics began to occur. Because your visibility was now measured in terms of the number of in-box entries you generated with influential people, second-rate employees who previously had little influence or peer respect could now inflate their image by sending notes and getting involved in discussions. It had been years since these media studies graduates had been able to contribute in any meaningful way to software development, and they collectively rued the day they had given up science for a softer study option because they failed to grasp basic euclidian geometry in the sixth grade.

After the rejection letters from law school and the local newspapers, they were forced to take up jobs as software testers, technical writers, or quality auditors. They were like a dormant cell waiting for the opportunity to wreak revenge, and e-mail was their weapon. The ability to carbon copy notes made e-mail even more powerful to these Machiavellian employees, who now spent hours writing carefully crafted notes. The recipients of these notes were carefully selected so the writers could look good in front of them as they subtly put down peers with their superior grasp of corporate buzzwords.

During the entire morning that the corporate payroll leeches spent authoring their master memos, the rest of the useful project team were engaged in more mundane tasks such as writing and delivering code, assuming naively that deliverable solutions were what the company wanted. To the customer and senior management who were observers of the trail of back and forth e-mail, it became clear to them just who had things figured out on the project. "Let's see what Richard has to say about situation foo," because after all he had so much wisdom about other project issues, he must be the oracle to all solutions. When the whole project went belly up and the bean counters came in with their axes and marker pens, it was the programmers who were fired and the nothingware e-mailers who kept their jobs.

Alan Turing defined artificial intelligence as when you couldn't tell the difference between communicating with a machine and a person. If the set of responses you got from either was indistinguishable, then the machine had managed to fool you. Each year IT departments at universities have a contest to build a real Turing machine.

I would like to propose a new contest, known as Artificial Stupidity. You write a program that sends unsoliticited e-mail to announce its presence (a list of Dilbert cartoons or funny news stories is a good start), then it should monitor the e-mails it gets copied on and write a "Look I'm so smart" reply. This reply has to include buzzwords such as "prioritization" or "customer-focused," and preferably a few invented words as well like "responsivitation," "architecturalship," or "subliminablation." If you can get the phrase "business to customer electronic on demand commerce" in the reply as well, then you get awarded a bonus of 50 points and the Dan Quayle award, a gold-colored plastic potato mounted on a realistic granite plinth.

I suggested the idea of the Artificial Stupidity Award to a colleague at work and he seemed unimpressed. "We have some of those contest winners connected to the e-mail server already," was his reply. "They work in the human resources department."

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