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.
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.
While the idea of artificial intelligence is nothing new, it was still surprising to see the article, “MEPs vote on robots’ legal status” addressing the possibility of granting legal rights to robots with artificial intelligence or electronic persons. While this in itself seems like a mind-boggling thought, it is also being debated if these electronic people should come with kill switches, which would shut down the robot if the situation were required. Beyond the disturbing thought that robots would have legal status the same as their human counterparts, the thought of a kill switch brings up a more disturbing question.
The idea of what has legal rights also extends to a corporation, legally they can spend money in candidate elections, and that some for-profit corporations may, on religious grounds, refuse to comply with a federal mandate to cover birth control in their employee health plans. Would we extend these rights to an electronic person? Could their rights be covered under the bill of rights? While it may seem absurd, 40 years ago the idea of an electronic entity with the rights of a person would have been seemed absurd too.
And what of the question of a kill switch? Having just come through a time when corporations were considered too big to fail, why would we not deem our electronic persons too important to shut down or too large to kill?
Where is the joy, the unbounded excitement in our electronic age, now that we have the ability to go anywhere electronically, where is the joy in the journey? The road seemed to beckon with the promise of discovery, an attempt to fill a wanderlust that only following the white line separating the sides of the asphalt nervous system connecting our country. You had to go- you had to feel the rush of the world coming toward you and hear the sound of the tires on the road. To go and go and see what was beyond the horizon. It seems the electronic nervous system is driving us to look within rather than explore the world around us, we would rather look at our lunch rather than see the world. The joy of the road and seeing the world seems to have been replaced by the joy of the post and our lives are measured more by the things we post rather than the signposts we pass.
I had the pleasure of showing my son Ridley Scott’s, “Blade Runner” a few weeks ago and while it was a pleasure to see the movie again, it brought up some interesting questions. As you may recall, the movie deals with Decker, Harrison Ford’s character must track down and “retire” human looking robots. At the end of the movie, Decker is “retiring” one of the robots (Ruger Hauer) who begins a stunning monologue lamenting how his experiences, his memories must die with him. It’s a beautiful and well known scene that got me thinking about memory, virtual and otherwise. What if we could download our experiences, our memories to a computer to be saved forever? All of our experiences saved forever and for anyone to take out and reexamine. Would we ever examine another’s life, take the time to sift through all the moments, to possibly find a diamond insight in the rough of time. Will we find ourselves in a Kardashian inspired nightmare, obsessed by watching someone else’s life that we lose sight of our own. Perhaps we might find respect for the miracle that is our own separate moment in time, available only to us and only shared by communal experience and those who care to hear the tale.
“EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
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.
While reading Wade Davis’ “The Wayfinders” I was stopped in my tracks when I read about the descendants of an ancient civilization known as the Tairona in South America. It seems that and I quote “ What is important, what has ultimate value, what gives life purpose is not what is measured and seen but what exists in the realm of Aluna, the abstract dimension of meaning.” This world Aluna is the unseen spirit or life force that moves through the earth and their world. One can imagine this as an earth born version of Avatar with everything being alive and having meaning. It’s almost as if it were a shadow world existing in our own that the native people still are in touch with and revere. Perhaps we also have such a world of meaning unrelated to the one we live in. We call ours Facebook.