Readers of this blog will know the high esteem that we hold Ridley Scotts “Blade Runner” and then will not be surprised that we stopped to read the article about dolls being given a formal funeral service at a funeral parlor in Japan. It seems that in Japan, many still hold to longstanding Shinto and Buddhist beliefs that all things have a soul, and so in “death” they are given the respect of a passed living being, with an acknowledged soul and spirit. While Blade Runner deals with the human looking robots possibility of having a soul, what about the items that we use every day? Many of us spend more time with our phone than we do with other people, either one person or many. My laptop has been with me for a number of years and is considered a trusted friend. When it is no longer usable, what obligation do I have to it? How often do we say, my phone or laptop died when the battery runs out? When will we learn that we have a responsibility to ourselves but also to what we create and what we create relationships with? If we didn’t, why would Britain be debating if kill switches were necessary or worth discussion? We seem to go to great pains to respect human birth (seemingly disregarding them afterward in many respects) and when and if other people do and deserve respect because of it, but what of the things we create that are not exactly like us yet. How will we react to the human robot that begs for a merciful death, will we toss it away or respect the role that it has had in our lives and inherent dignity. Perhaps we will finally be compassionate beings in the digital space when we treat a computers demise with the respect and awe that we treat the launch of the newest tablet or phone.
It was surprising to me to hear when a friend of mine had taken a job driving for Uber. Now there is nothing wrong with driving for Uber, I was surprised as my friend and I had met in college and I thought him a smart man and good student, talents not so much in demand as an Uber driver. It seems this electronic revolution, will have the same effect as the industrial revolution only on a larger scale. While the industrial revolution took skilled laborers and reduced them to a cog in an assembly line, this computer revolution seems to be doing the same for every worker. It seems that there is no skill that cannot be replaced, revised or in some way significantly downsized by computers and automation. Just as skilled craftsmen and blacksmiths were relegated to endlessly executing the same task, now college educated people are finding their jobs behind the wheel of the cars that the first revolution made possible.
They say now we are teaching our children skills for jobs that do not yet exist so that they can be ready for what is to come. Let us hope we are not giving them all driving licenses for an age of driverless cars.
Recently I heard about an NPR podcast how computers are now using big data to make predictions about our behavior. This may mean tracking the number of cars in a shopping center parking lot to see how it correlates with activities or sales in the mall. It seems that computers can watch what we do, make a prediction as to our behavior and market to us to satisfy our need before we know what we need or want. As soon as companies can begin to predict our behavior they will be there to market to us for profit. It seems that our only way for people to hold on to our humanity will be to be unpredictable. Our constancy seems to be something that will turn us into machines that the machines we create will understand.
In rehearsals for “La Traviata,” I remember thinking as a character walked in and began to sing an impassioned plea on behalf of his son, “Is he telling the truth?” How often do we assume that people are speaking the truth just because they say it is? This has never been more apparent than recent situations around our incumbent president and the manner in which the constant repetition of a statement seems to give it an air of truth no matter how insane it may seem. The frightening thing is that we seem to be able to find some corroborating evidence for whatever we believe on the internet. In a time when 44% of adults get their news from Facebook, these media effects go back to the age dreadfuls and even to the advent of print media itself. So while we should be rightfully concerned about this trend for our current politics, we should also know that it is not the first time this has happened. One could argue that this transubstantiation of truth and what is real is a large part of called the Reformation. In this age of disruptive innovation, we must be vigilant with what we hear and accept as truth, as Ronald Reagan famously quoted a Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify”. Seeking truth does not allow an immersion onto a reality of one’s own making but confronting the reality we share, a difficult task it seems in our ever personalized reality.
With a nod to David Mitchell, whos, the quote provided the title for this blog.
Years ago I sang in the choir at a synagogue in Long Island NY and as a part of that I listened to a lot of sermons. One of the things that I really struck me was the holiness of the Torah, not just what it said but the book itself. In one sermon the rabbi spoke how at one point the word was considered too powerful, a rope was tied round the waist of the rabbi as he went into the holiest part of the temple, where the Torah scrolls were kept as the power of the words and information in the Torah might knock him senseless. With the recent cyber attracts hopefully we will once again to understand the power of information that we have come to regard with such little worth. Now we seem to realize that information has the power to make or destroy us and that we should treat it with respect. Perhaps that is the journey of western civilization, we seem to make an art of making the sacred profane, moving value to an ever more shifting goal.
I was interested to see there is now a museum of expired technology beyond typewriters or rotary phones to apple clam shell computers and floppy disks. The thought is that some day we might need to get some information that can only be read by this older technology. This may be a good thing but it brings to mind the blind spot in our planning and thought process. If we were to look farther back in the past we might pause at the ancient writers preoccupation on the animating force of man and the universe. What is it that makes us go, this mix of air, wind and water makes us alive. While we are still struggling with this question we do know what makes computers run yet how concerned are we about that future? What happens to all this technology past and future if we don’t have the electricity to make it run? While we should be concerned about the past and preserving it what good will it be if we don’t have the ability to re-animate it. While Dr Frankenstein had lightning we may not be so lucky. Are we neglecting supporting our future while saving our past?
One of the things I love about the BBC is that their web site has a Future section that focuses on new technology and what is on the horizon. While browsing the other day I came across an article about a new card reading technology that allowed card holders access to the Tube by waving the card over a reader. The author took his card apart to find the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip located inside and removed it with the hopes of implanting it in his hand so that he could enter the Tube with just a wave of his hand. It seems that this is a growing movement of people who are looking to meld their bodies with technology, Transhumanism. Have we outgrown evolution or do we need to take things in our own hands and begin to merge our bodies with computers. Maybe the six million dollar man is not so far in the future.
Read the article Why I want a microchip implant here