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Driving to Oblivion

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.

Uber, Uber driver, electronic revolution, industrial revolution, automation, downsized, computers, assembly line, computer revolution, revolution, driverless cars, Driving licenses

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The Electronic Anima

Science was never really my thing in school much less psychics and Lord knows I don’t claim to understand much about it but find the thought that particles act differently when they are being observed that when they are not being observed. More to the point that particles cannot change when being observed is the Zeno Effect a.k.a. Turing’s Paradox.  Now how one can observe and not observe an object or particle is a question that we won’t delve into here but I do wonder if this holds true to data and information. Does data act differently when we are looking for it or at it? Does data hop up and down like a puppy in the dog pound when Google’s all Seeing Eye turns on it or is it inert no matter what happens to it? Do our drives or our cloud servers react differently to different data?  If metaphysics is the nature and reality of the soul, what is the study of the nature of information? Perhaps we no longer are concerned with the nature or the information as long as we can get it instantly and at our fingertips

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The Calagari Effect

In an earlier life, I was an opera singer and one of my first roles was a small supporting role in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. I would sit in the wings and watch rehearsals and performances following another role I hoped to grow into in the future. This character enters in the third act and begins to tell the heroine a story that will change the course of her life and consequently, the opera. The moment is etched in my mind; the character enters and tries to persuade the soprano to leave her lover for the good of the lover’s family and ultimately all concerned. Actually not that moment but the moment where I thought to myself, “is he lying?” It seems that in movies, plays and many other media that we assume that when someone is speaking that they are telling the truth. We never think that like Otello (or Othello if you prefer) we are being fed a lie, and are being manipulated. Indeed the greatest examples of this is from Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr Calagari” where in the entire story we are being told turns out to be the point of view from a man in an insane asylum and may be entirely untrue. And yet for the entirety of the story we believe what he says having no reason to doubt our tale. This Calagari effect means that we take everything as true until we are forced by circumstance to prove it true or otherwise.
This “Calagari effect” takes on new importance in this internet age. Every moment we are on the internet we are being inundated with information and yet we have no ability to validate much of it. I work with an associate in Chennai India and on a lark I googled pictures of his city. Having never been there I have to ask, is this really Chennai? If so or not, how do I know? As we rely more and more on the internet to give us experiences and help us understand the world outside of ourselves, how can we divine that we are seeing what is truly there? Perhaps the greatest gift of the internet is instilling in us the doubt of what is really there and force us to look for truth beyond the keyboard.

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a scene from The Cabinet of Dr Calagari

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In your Interface!

One of the books that lives on my night stand is Elizabeth Eisenstein’s “The Printing Press as an Agent of Change” . I was flipping through it the other night and I was reminded how early books were made to look like scrolls and the print font to look like handwriting to show the value of this new innovation in information technology. This got me thinking about the computer touch screen interface. Are we using the “book” model to guide our access to information and if we are will be begin to find new ways to communicate with computers and perhaps a new way to relate and relate to information and the world around us. Perhaps one day the humble Google search page will seem as antiquated as the dead sea scrolls or an old map where sea monsters roam the landscape of our ignorance.

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The Far Horizon

When I was growing up the Chicago Reader was a source of popular culture and cutting edge cartoons. I remember one that was a virtual trip to Comiskey Park- the ball park where the Chicago White Sox played. The cartoon consisted of a drawing of a steel beam that you could cut out and assemble into a column with instructions to hang this from the brim of a hat right in front of your face- in effect wherever you looked you would see a post and not the baseball game. Listening to public radio the other day I was reminded of that cartoon. It seems that Mohammad is the most popular name in the world. It surprised me until I was confronted with the small frame of reference with which I view the world. I don’t know anyone for whom English is not their first language, I am not aware that I know anyone who was not born in the United States. When I look around my office and often around the city I live in I don’t see anyone without the same colour skin that I have. With the internet we now have the ability to find a world view that encompasses the entire world and doesn’t just reinforce the world view that we already have. Google maps can show us not only where we are  in space but show us the world around us. Let us hope that the internet will be used to  draw our eye from what is close at hand and back to the horizon that beckons us onward. The sun setting isn’t the end of a day but the beginning of a journey, calling us.

Rocky

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Signposts in the Electronic Twilight Zone

In Esther M. Sternberg’s book “Healing Spaces” there is a chapter about public spaces and I found it interesting that in open spaces, public squares and as such, we tend to navigate toward an object in the square, a bench or fountain in a square or park even if it is not the quickest route. It seems that we are drawn to objects in on open space. I wondered if the same was true of cyberspace until I remembered the uproar when Google changed its home page a few years ago. The story is detailed in the excellent, “The Google Story” by David Vise and Mark Malseed, but suffice it to say the changes were not well received and the white background was quickly returned. We seem to have an attachment to these electronic signposts that we gravitate toward like lampposts in the public square. Do we find ourselves needing these electronic safe places to navigate the  wilderness; to keep us from ending up in the twilight zone?

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Remembrance of Technology Past

Robert Frost said there is something that does not love a wall that wants it down. It seems to me that it is not so much hating the wall as loving the remnants of what is was. We are fascinated by ghost towns and the memories of things past. This crossed my mind when I read the BBC article on the possibility of the “digital dark age”, that all the things we have been saving on computers may be lost to us as hardware and software become obsolete. The situation would be like the Egyptian hieroglyphs before the Rosetta stone. While Vint Cerf promotes an idea to preserve every piece of software and hardware so that it never becomes obsolete – just like what happens in a museum – but in digital form, in servers in the cloud I feel strangely fascinated by the opposite. That at some point we may be confronted with a keyboard or monitor and have no idea what it does, the same way my son is fascinated by my rotary telephone. Is there not a planned obselence for information or technology, a point of no return? Ruins and remnants fascinate us, should we not let technology take on the same role as buildings, even ideas that are no longer considered correct or viable. Do we need to save everything or can we let memory be all that we possess of the past?

 

Here is the link to the BBC article
http://m.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31450389

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