A longstanding personal policy of mine has been to avoid assigning human qualities to machines or inanimate objects. Case in point, many years ago it was time to turn off our mainframe computer after years of reliable use.

One of the staff members assigned to the task of "pulling the plug" looked at me and pronounced that once he turned off the machine it could likely never be turned back on. It was temperamental that way.

The machine.

After assuring him it was my desire to never use the thing again he begrudgingly threw the switch and "killed" the machine power with a look of utter trepidation.

Fast forward to today's world of artificial intelligence (AI) and the things we encounter from machines that seem so human.

For example, for the last five years, part of my exercise routine has included spin classes. This is an exercise class on a stationary bike, typically led by a skinny woman or a hyperactive man who play loud music and yell instructions at the participants.

Recently, my routine has included riding a spin bike called a Peloton. It has a 21-inch TV screen and Wi-Fi access to live classes led by instructors and recorded classes as well. It is one of the coolest workout experiences I've ever had.

The bike allows users to compare their results to other users by gender and age group. If you're highly competitive, it could create a real problem for you.

Something occurred to me the other day while riding in a live class. I was compelled to "catch up" to another rider in his 40s just to show him that old guys (50s) still have it. Because the class was live, he would know I was gaining on him and be able to respond in kind with his own burst of competitiveness, if he so chose.

It was a satisfying feeling to pass him in the last few minutes.

But then I rode in an on-demand class, and the geniuses who invented this bike figured out a way to show your performance during the class against the riders who already took the class. However, in this mode, if you decide to catch up to another rider, you are competing against a benchmark rather than a human. Right?

All of this begs the question of whether my effort to catch a pre-recorded rider is equal, in quality, to my effort to pass a live opponent?

This is without respect to measuring calories burned or distances, or simply being satisfied that I had a good workout.

Too much data can confound the best of our intentions.

Such are the questions that define the first-world challenges of this day and age and try the souls of the hyper-competitive.

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