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What am I missing…

While listening to public radio, my ears perked up when I heard a story about how the first MP3 was created. It seems that in 1987, Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega was the first song that was compressed into what we now know as the current MP3. It seems that to create an MP3 the file is compressed and that some of the audio data is lost in the process. While the current technology seems to give us acceptable losses, there are losses none the less. Ryan Maguire’s Ghost in the MP3 project examines this lost information and presents this lost data as an oddly beautiful piece of music, a sort of phoenix from the ashes. In addition, our cell service is regularly flattened which has the effect of removing the emotion out of the voice we are listening to while supposedly reducing background noise, it also removes some of the emotional content of the voice- possibly one of the few remaining things that we have that computers can not yet replicate.
While these losses may seem insignificant, it reminds me of the poem by Martin Niemoller, “First They Came” how one by one the Nazis purged groups until there was no one left to protest when at last they came for the author, no one was left to hear his protests. What exactly are we compressing, do we know what we loose over the thundering goosestepping of technology. While I like to think we have learned from our mistakes if we wait too long our calls of protest will be devoid of emotion content in the interest of reducing the background noise.

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Where Angels Fear To Tread

As the namesake of this blog was fond of saying, media is an extension of our human nervous system and as such is neither good or bad, but a tool for us to use to learn and grow. Basically, radio is an extension of our voice, the telephone an extension of our hearing etc. With the advent of the internet and social media, it seems that our consciousness can be everywhere at once. As drones become cheaper and more accessible, it seems that our media vision can now see farther than ever before. With the addition of artificial reality and phones that allow us to immerse ourselves in a reality almost anywhere in the world or where we send our drones to look. This reminded me of a section of Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations With God” where he speaks of his belief that, to know itself, the creative force split itself into millions of pieces which were planted in us so that we could look back on the universe and experience it from outside the creative consciousness. As we move forward with our innovation, expanding our experiential presence of the world, are we not setting ourselves on a trajectory similar to one that many believe created ourselves.

Conversations with God

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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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Retail Profiling

When I was growing up outside of Chicago, I often went into the Loop to look at the architecture, see a movie or the latest show at the Art Institute. One particularly cold winter I remember my winter coat had had a rather tough time of it, after falling in slushy snow on several occasions and truth be told, I looked rather rough, knit hat pulled down to my eyebrows and proudly showing that first bit of beard. The cold and wind made me take refuge in a new lifestyle brand clothing store that had just opened. I was just warming up when I noticed a clerk who seemed to have no other job than to follow me around the store.  Everywhere I went he made sure that he was in my gaze, making it clear that I was not welcome there. This made me so uncomfortable that I soon decided the arctic Chicago weather was better than the clerk’s cold gaze.
This came back to me while reading Joseph Turow’s “The Isles Have Eyes”, a fascinating new book on big data’s effect on retailing and the future of sales in general. It seems that retailers are now tracking our transactions both through our purchases and in the store via facial recognition to create a live buyer persona to project our needs and try to fulfill them before we reach the checkout isle. While a frequent buyers program can give discounts, Turow proposes that a store could tailor your experience to the store’s needs and perception of who you are and how your presence fits into their brand. For example, if you shop at that store only occasionally but spend a lot of money the store may want to woo you. Once the store recognizes you with facial recognition, they may alert a clerk to your presence, have them approach you with suggestions all based on your buying history. They may also have other information about you, say family names or photos from social media or a recent promotion from trade papers or press- all to ensure your return to their store. While this may be a bit creepy, the opposite is even worse. Let’s say a stores database decides you are not their demographic for whatever reason. A store clerk could be sent to shadow you around the store and if deemed necessary, even call security and remove you. All from the data that has been gathered about you, whether you know it or not. It seems that in the future we can be discriminated against not only for how we appear physically but electronically.

What can you do when your data decides who you are?

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