Of course, you know the old story, to boil a frog, you don’t drop it into a pot of boiling water but put it in cool water and slowly turn up the temperature to boiling. The same seems true of the ongoing debates over privacy and net neutrality. Lulled into a false sense of security or blinded by naiveté, we allow corporations to mine who we are and what we choose to treat us like horses with blinders on, seeing only what they want us to see, and now we want to give them the ability to fast track the online content of their choice while allowing other content to linger in the slow lane. It seems odd that the same legal bodies, corporations, that created the financial crisis in the savings and loan and mortgage industry, not to mention the opioid crisis in this country now want to create a world where they control our access to information for their personal gain. In an economy where the bottom line is at best the shareholder (or more frequently the executives) payout, why should we think our best interests are a concern. The entire point of the internet seemed to be to allow everyone accesses to knowledge for the betterment of all. If we allow our access to the free flow of information to be restricted, we will be no better than frogs in warm bath water on the stove.
In everyone’s life, in some way, you come to a place you say about something you are doing or not doing- is this really worth it? Malcolm Gladwell calls that the tipping point, or “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” at which change becomes either obvious or inevitable. It happens to all of us and in all sorts of situations, that moment when you realize that change is inevitable and perhaps the only choice. It seems that wiser minds than mine have come to this conclusion, as when I read in the BBC that African nations have begun to worry about the risk of job loss in Africa as robots automate many processes that can be brought back to the US or other nations and not depend on the cheap labour force that Africa and other nations have provided. Those who deride the coming economic disaster, suggest that if only the African nations would educate their children in the magic world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), all problems would be solved. These children would rise along with all the other stem fed children to ascend into the light of a technological new day. But don’t worry, for those who are left behind by the ever upward spiral of capitalism, there is always the promise of the universal basic income, a salary for everyone at the cost of social services, so that even those of us who are misplaced in this economic game of musical chairs can receive money to live and, of course, buy things to keep the whole spiral going. Yet, what happens to people with no other purpose than to consume to keep an antiquated and harmful system running? What is the meaning of a life that is only based on our ability to consume? What happens when we reach our tipping point and realize that we are no better than veal calf’s being fattened to make our masters fatter.
It is with a fair amount of interest that I have followed the debate in Europe over the role of AI and how it should be viewed or regulated. Readers of this post may remember the kerfuffle caused by Sophia, the robot that appeared at Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh and caused a stir as a robot, as a woman robot and as a woman robot in an Arab country without a hajib. Well, the discussion has come up again in Europe where the European Parliament, to the outrage of AI specialists, advised that robots be given legal status. Like a corporation, this would not hold the companies that created the robots legally responsible for their behavior. It seems to be step in the Alfred P Newman, “what, me worry?” theology that seems to be the order of the day. If guns don’t kill people, then why should we think that companies that make robots are responsible for what they do. And yet, what about the place of robots as human beings. Would they have all the rights of a human or would they have some fraction like the 3/5 voting rights proposed for slaves by the Constitutional Convention of 1787? We seem to have such a good track record of integration and inclusion in this country, it seems strangely natural that we would not even be the ones having this discussion. Europe is far ahead of us on matters of understanding and regulating the role of this new technology, asking questions that we do not seem yet to acknowledge as issues. We can only hope that the robots that we give human status will be better humans than we seem to be.
It was with surprise that I saw the article in the BBC, that doctors in Britan were treating brain tumours with a drug that will cause a tumor to glow so that in the edges of a tumor will glow giving doctors the ability to see the edge so that they can remove it during surgery. In a strange case of life imitating art, I was reminded of Kevin Brockmeier’s book, The Illumination. In the book, pain manifests itself as visible light after a mysterious event called “the Illumination,” revealing our greatest pain to be the most beautiful thing about us. In this new electronic age, it seems that media allows every one of our pains to glow, to be seen and re-lived at any moment. We can look at tragedies from yesterday to almost 100 years ago, keeping Parkland as present as Hiroshima to those who are willing to look. On the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, it is my hope that we might take a moment, find the courage to reflect on our own pain and give it the respect and reverence that deserves. It is truly one thing that while we may run from, we can not hide from it forever and in this world of the immediate now, perhaps its time to stop and see the beauty in our pain.
It really made me laugh out loud. I mean, how often is it that the grey lady, New York Times On-Line projects hilarity into this ultra-serious time. It seems that coder Eric Bailey decided to create an add-on to Google’s Chrome browser to counteract the surge in news stories that blame so-called millennials for the world’s problems. The Millennials to Snake People add-on term “millennials” to “snake people” in news articles and on websites. No accessing the launch codes, just something that he thought would be funny. Somehow this was allowed to slip into an article that appeared in the online edition but was corrected for the print version.
While the online article only referred to the “Great Recession” as “the time of shedding and cold rocks”, the fact that someone seems to be using the internet and social media to inject a bit of mirth into the discussion is a move that we wholeheartedly endorse. This seems to continue in the proud tradition of jokers and fools have been Ernie Kovacs, Salvador Dali, the Pie Man even St Francis. It seems that the jokers and fools will be the ones to open our eyes to a vaster possibility of engagement, to make us examine this new presence in our lives, to lose our jaded blinders and to remember that we are surrounded by wonder and that each moment can be a moment to be surprised by joy. Or at least snake people!
If our age could have a patron saint, I would like to nominate Captain Renault, Claude Rains character in Casablanca. In his famous scene, Claude Rains, playing the role of Captain Louis Renault, jokingly suggested that gambling in the local Rick’s Café nightclub astonished him. In truth, Renault is fully in the know, corrupt and on the take. This seems to be the role that the media and many politicians seem to want to play during this presidency. While the idea that a twenty-four-hour media would not create a twenty-four-hour news cycle may still be news to some, it seems as though we can’t imagine that a reality star in the presidency would use the media as a reality star would- a tool to promote themselves and their brand. With the creation of a 24-hour news media, why should we be shocked when someone tweets at 5 in the morning? We have created a media wave yet ridicule people who surf it. (Please understand- I am speaking of the use of the media- not the content) I am reminded of the film “Frost/Nixon” Where David Frost, on hearing Nixon resigned was angered not by the act but that he had done it in the morning in the East coast while the major media on the west coast was still asleep and could not cover the event live. How could he pull off the greatest media stunt of his time while much of the country was not awake to see it? Frost knew the power of media and knew how to use it to his own advantage. Now we have the children of the media using these tools in their own playground. If the brand is what we value, why not use all the tools to increase its worth, I mean, you go to the zoo- expect to see the monkeys.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what year it was, but one new years day I woke about 2 in the afternoon realizing that someone had been using my head as a gong and had knitted tiny booties for each of my teeth. The only reason that I woke up is that somewhere someone had turned on some music to greet the new year, playing the Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds”. Those unfamiliar with the song should know the refrain goes, “Don’t worry about a thing because every little thing is going to be alright” While that was small solace to me at that moment, it seemed to sink into my memory and become a touchstone for the entire year, an island of hope which I often returned to. Listening to the news in the past few days reminded me of that song summoning me from a stupor and giving me hope. These days it seems like newscasters seem to be falling over themselves to tell us how the world is coming to an end. Not that there are not serious things going on in the world, it seems that each new media brings with it a new form of creative destruction. While the printing press brought the newly printed bible to the masses, it also created the Reformation; television brought the world into our homes allowing us to see racial segregation, carpet bombing and a Viet Cong officer during the Tet Offensive as well as Bernstein s Omnibus and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those of us who remember our philosophy classes in college and Hegel may remember the dialectic, how each thing creates its opposite or what Taoist philosophers call Self-Manifestation through Contraries. While this process can be destructive, perhaps the only way to face this disruptive innovation is to think of the hopeful words of Bob Marley or these days a better choice may be the coping suggestion here from Bette Middler. Perhaps if we don’t face the music and dance, at least we can laugh.
Please take a moment to listen….