From the Left



Diners and AI

Marc Munroe Dion on

Artificial Intelligence is a huge concern among people in my business because first of all, we think we're gonna lose our jobs, plus we think AI will produce mediocre writing, and we don't want to lose our jobs.

Also, it's creepy, although it's not nearly as creepy as some of the people I worked with and for during a 40-year stumble through the newspaper business.

Could AI have taken my job when I worked for newspapers? Depends on what I was writing. I was a business reporter for seven years, and a moderately intelligent can opener could have taken my job. I don't mean an electric can opener, either. I mean one of those hand-operated can openers like we had in the days before power steering, if there even were any days before power steering.

As a columnist, I was harder to replace with AI because I'm pretty sure AI can't hang out in cop bars; go into lousy neighborhoods; and cultivate friendships with the unemployed, recent immigrants and people who eat that pizza they sell at Walmart.

If you're a newspaper columnist and one of your sources is a guy the neighborhood people call "Bobby the Junkie," you might be able to hold off AI as long as your soccer parent editor isn't repulsed by the fact that you know Bobby. Surprisingly enough, a lot of newspaper people are terrified of poor people, and they're scared of junkies unless the junkie is a white kid who used to play high school lacrosse, got hooked on painkillers and now wants to "tell his story."

Which is what ruined diners.

The diners, the real, working-class dump diners, are popping off the face of the earth.


Fast food is the artificial intelligence of food. It's mediocre, but it's the same everywhere, and it's cheaper than a diner. It was created to give you an alternative to something that worked, but not fast enough or cheap enough.

Besides, if you were traveling, and you saw a sign that said "Steve's Diner," you pulled into the parking lot and you took your chances. Steve might be an ex-Army cook who made a helluva sausage gravy, and his wife, Helen, might be a Hungarian immigrant who made an amazing paprikash. They met after Steve helped liberate a concentration camp. If you were a person, and not AI, you might get that story out of Steve and Helen.

Of course, you might pull up in the parking lot and discover that Steve was a bloated alcoholic whose short order cook was an alcoholic Steve was training, and the pancakes were raw in the middle, and you saw a rat in the men's room. If you had no character, you left. Anyone with any real morals ate the half-raw pancakes, and watched to see if the rat came out of the men's room.

If, on the other hand, you pulled into the parking lot of "Extrud-O Buerger," you got exactly what every other Extrud-O Burger sold, 5,000 stores coast-to-coast. The chain joints kept the rats out by the dumpster, like any decent restaurant, and if the "Team Member" who made your food was a little stoned, it didn't make much difference because there were no real cooking schools required.

"Do you want it fast, or do you want it good?" is a stupid question because everyone says, "Both," but we'll take fast, and we don't like risk.

To find out more about Marc Dion, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Mean Old Liberal." It is available in paperback from and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.



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