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Jesus, don’t let Google take the Wheel.

It was an odd conversation though maybe not considering that as a part of a choir from a Midwest Lutheran college staying with a born-again Christian host family on a choir tour in the mid-80’s. It was a discussion of faith and the line went something like this, There is a tightrope across two buildings and Jesus pushes a wheel barrel on the tightrope from one building, across the tightrope to building that you are standing atop. He says to you, “ See how I have walked from one building to another across the tightrope pushing this wheel barrel? Now, why don’t you get in the wheel barrel and I will take you back to the first building by walking the tightrope.”
Now while I enjoyed the idea of Jesus on the tightrope, the thrust of the argument was that if you just saw Jesus walk the tightrope with a wheel barrel, shouldn’t you have faith to trust that he could make the return trip with you in the wheel barrel. While we trust the other person to do something alone, when we are involved it seems to be another matter. This also seems to be the issue with the current discussion on self-driving cars – in a recent Washington Post article, Seventy-eight percent of respondents to an AAA survey said they would not want to ride in a self-driving car. While we can trust our credit cards, our social security numbers our addresses and other personal information such as emails and texts to the internet even trusting planes to autopilot, we dare not get into the car with an electronic stranger. Equifax has the falsely earned idea of our trust, but we can not entertain a computer piloting us through city streets. Strange how so much of our society can claim unswerving faith in a deity that will save our soul but have no faith in something that affects every aspect of our lives on a day-to-day basis.

Google, Jesus, Faith, Belief,

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The End Of Automation

For those of us who still remember “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, from our typing class days, (Its a sentence that has all the letters of the alphabet which one would type endlessly for touch typing practice) the idea that we may no longer need to type to input information into our computers sounds like a good thing. It would mean an end to all those hours of finger drills on the keyboard or typewriter, helping us learn the skill of typing. New technology is moving forward the next level is access, making sure that everyone has the ability to meet the real or imagined need for Facebook, YouTube, and all the rest. The move toward a visual and voice based manner of interacting with the computers and the electronic world would open the next billion to the 21st century as we see it. This poses questions that we will be looking at over the coming weeks, one of these being the continued lowering of the bar to access. While there are no doubts that voice command or push button input would make life easier, I wonder, how easy do we need things to be? At what point will we not need to make any efforts at all and have everything being automated and done for us. The only glimmer of hope that we are beginning to see that too much automation makes a good case for our own extinction. Self-driving cars may eliminate five million jobs or more and the question quickly becomes, what do these people and what do we need them for? We are even looking at a universal basic income so that we can give those people whos jobs have been eliminated money to buy the products they used to make. Perhaps it’s not the jobs being eliminated that we have to worry about, what if we eliminate the need for ourselves?

 

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The Great Cost and Value Ballet

While it still blows my mind that light has weight, it also still causes me to stop and think that information has value and that our information can demand a high cost. Companies regularly mine our internet browsing history to see where we have been to predict where we might go in our internet searches. But have we lost the difference between cost and value? It has been often remarked upon here and elsewhere how we give away our personal data or data exhaust as it is called, making us believe that there is no value to our information. It is something like the exhaust from our cars that needs to be taken away and dealt with like a crying child throwing a tantrum in a museum. And yet, this very stone which we have rejected becomes the cornerstone of so many company’s existences. If Google couldn’t track our data, how would they know how to market to us, to tell us what we needed, what we should value, what we should want and how to get it? In short, we give them things which we are told have no value and then they to use these things, our opinions and our interests to determine what we should pay for what we are told we should want.

It seems that what we value we are no longer willing to pay for and what we pay for what we no longer value. We pay money for products that we know we will have to replace in a year or less as they will have no value left and pay money to get people to look, click or follow a website. We pursue a vapor we value but at what cost?

value, cost, cost benefit, data exhaust

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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.

caligari

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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