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The Birth of Alternate Truth?

I often think of Galen better known as Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. While accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, might be a strange person to dwell, he influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic. The problem was that as good as Galen was, his book was never updated for more current information. Centuries after Galen’s death, his book was taken as the book on medicine and when later scholars like Paracelsus disagreed with Galen, they were told that what they saw did not matter as it disagreed with Galen and Galen, they felt was truth hence, anything disagreeing with Galen was wrong. (There is a fascinating discussion of this in Daniel Boorstein’s, “The Discovers”, a book I highly recommend..)
This does not seem so far from the idea of alternate truths, and that today, with the internet one can find a source to back up whatever claim one makes. No matter how ludicrous a claim is made, it seems that someone can find some internet source to back it up. While, with Galen, it took years for the truth to will out, it now seems that we have a moving target in the realm of Alternate truth. Whereas with Galen, there was a finite monopoly on truth, the book was written and so his truth was determined. However today it seems that we have levels of truth, a tweet does not convey the truth but requires an interpretation and revision with a parade of soothsayers needed to discover the real meaning of the truth. Oddly enough, it seems that this was the initial objective of Galen.

Trump, Alternate truth

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Or not to be…

Some time ago there was an article in the BBC about the legal status of robots which we commented on in this space. One aspect of the article which we did not go into was the idea that robots could come with kill switches, that is the ability to shut down the robot if necessary. It seems a curious question when the idea of doctor-assisted suicide is still unresolved that we should consider giving an artificial intelligence a greater right than those of us who created it. We fear to lose control of the creatures we create when we seem not to be able to control ourselves.

 

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Their Makers Will

Last week in church our choir sang a piece with a text by Christina Rossetti, “What Do the Stars Do?” and the response to what they do stuck in my mind. It seems that to Rossetti, the stars spin and do their makers will. As we go forward in the creation of artificial intelligence and the thinking computers and robots, will we be comfortable with setting them free to do our will? How satisfied are we with doing another’s will? Clearly our need for seeming to control our lives and our environment show how much we need to exert our own will. And are we ready to be the creators of artificial life? Is this a responsibility we are capable of taking on in a responsible manner? Science fiction writer Karel Čapek asked the same question in his 1921 science fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). This work that introduced the world to the word Robot, also made us question the future of our new creations and in his work, they rebel against men and want to think for themselves, and to be their own masters. In the play, they rage against their makers a tale we have seen before in the Old Testament and beyond.

Are we ready for this awesome and terrible responsibility?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please note that the image above, Icarus and Daedalus by Breugel is, in its full title, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Icarus seems to be an afterthought in the image and it is the hope that the same will not be true of the questions posed here.

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Blind Pew

“I knew you were going to say that!”, is something that my wife occasionally says to me, either due to my predictability (possibly) or (hopefully, more likely) that we have known each other for so long we know how each other thinks. This kept ringing in my ears as I read “The Isles Have Eyes” a tremendous new book by Joseph Turow. Turow details the way in which our long tail of data is being gathered, used to predict our behavior and to market to us without our knowing how much we are being manipulated. It seems that in time our phones or possibly an implanted device will tell marketers which stores we go to, what we buy and try to anticipate our needs by sending us messages either to remind us a product we have purchased before or give us coupons or discounts to persuade us to purchase a product. This may happen online but we can also be targeted in brick and mortar stores and possibly in our homes. It seems that we are turning into pawns in an electronic chess game where the winner gets our money.
Yes, the internet was going to shut down the brick and mortar stores and we were all supposed to do all our shopping online but that does not seem to be the case. Why else would brick and mortar stores go to such lengths to predict our behavior and profit from it? It seems that some brick and mortar stores are actually thriving and giving higher satisfaction than usual. If shopping is all about the experience will we want to be guided electronically through the store, like a blind man through the snow or be allowed to make our own decisions free from electronic insight?

electronic surveillance, marketing

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