Frank Thoms

AI, the Russians, and Me

May 13, 2023 by Frank Thoms

In October 1985, I came to the Soviet Union with my eyes wide open––or so I thought. For the previous twenty-five years, I taught my eighth graders about the Russians, their history, their ideology, and culture. I felt comfortable with my knowing them. I acquired a leave-of-absence for a two-week trip to Leningrad, Moscow, and Kyiv to be hosted and operated by Intourist, the official Soviet government travel agency.

I understood we would be in foreigners-only hotels, eat in special restaurants, tour in our private bus, and stop at beryozka shops where we could spend our dollars. I was ready for that. But I came looking for something more. But what exactly, I had no idea.

I was in the airport not twenty minutes when a woman in wild curls and two children stepped in front of me. Not in front of another from my group but me. After an awkward exchange due to language, we parted, I with a scrap of brown paper with her name, Natasha, and her telephone number. Two days later I was in her flat having lunch. Not anticipated. Not on the tour.

The day before two black marketers accosted me (it felt like that at first). We toured the city in their Lada car. They claimed we would meet the two college students I was looking for at a restaurant. We parted later in the evening. Again, not anticipated. Not on the tour.

Both of these encounters were unexpected, surprises in fact. What AI will bring will be light years different. What it will be? Who knows? Can we be ready? Will we? Will I?

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