Looking back is not something that we like to do here at the “Galaxy” but there are times when a past post comes back to make us stare it in the face like Marley’s ghost demanding an answer. Unfortunately this is the case with one of our posts, “Outsourcing Hatred” we finished by musing that one day possibly we would have machines that could hate people for us, outsourcing our hatred so that we could be free for nobler pursuits. While it would be pretty to think that is remained in the realm of science fiction, recently it was touted in the news that the algorithms have learned our biases and are using them to continue a vision of the world that, hopefully, many of us disagree with. It seems that algorithms are being used to grant or deny us opportunities based on prejudice built into our data. These algorithms don’t simply predict outcomes but cause them. When an algorithm takes the past record of success as the predictor of success, we get a future that greatly resembles our present and past, as sort of infinite ground hog day loop. In a world where the ruling class seems to have a vested interest in maintaining their grip on power, what could be better. But, if you have a vision of a tomorrow different than today, if you see something in the future greater than the present, we will have to wean ourselves from these silicon comforts and find value in each other and what we can do for and with each other or we will end up with a future that is a mirror on our past.
I was thinking of the Poi Dog Pondering song while looking at my phone. The lyric “love is everything and everything is a distraction” got me thinking about the object of my affection, my phone. In a recent conversation, Simon Sinek tells how when we get a message on our phone it releases dopamine in our brain, the pleasure chemical that becomes very addictive in the same way that alcohol or drugs affect our brain. More than just that (as if that wasn’t enough) this outward journey keeps us from a necessary inward journey, to find ourselves, to know our own inner peace, free of exterior stresses and interior stresses that can only come through practice and meditation. There is an old African proverb that says, “If there is no enemy within, the enenmy outside can do us no harm.” We allow ourselves to become so distracted by the demons outside that we think we can ignore the demons inside. They will always be there until we turn, face them and make peace with them. All the social media likes will never allow us to love ourselves.
What do we mean when we say, Artificial Intelligence? A quick look at Wikipedia shows that the word Artificiality is the state of being the product of intentional human manufacture, rather than occurring naturally through processes not involving or requiring human activity. There is little in this world that has not been affected by human activity, or human presence. In the largest sense, it seems that there is little that has not been affected by human activity. Now we may be splitting semantic hairs but let us step back and look at the larger picture and a more interesting question. We have found that algorithms and AI have begun to play some games better than we can and even learn things on their own using a rewards-based system.
But are they intelligent?
I think not. Here is the reason why. AI and any computer will tell you that 2+2=4. But will they tell you that 2+2=7. The talent that we have that computers may never have is the ability to see what is not there. Anyone can look at the first problem and say, “Yes, that is right”. But what about the guy who looks at the second and says- that’s right too and here is why. The 2 is actually a 5 upside down and 2+5 is 7.” What about the ability to see what isn’t there? What about the ability, like they said of Michelangelo, to see the David in the piece of stone and to take away everything that was not in his vision. What about the Edison’s, Einstein’s, the Picassos and Mozart’s? Our greatest talent is to see what isn’t there and to will it into being. This is a talent that as far as we know only humans have- perhaps one of our greatest gifts. Our hearts are not stirred by the accountant or the analyst but by those who can remind us take that leap and learn to fly on the way down. For it is only in our taking the illogical step, by pushing us to make no small plans and to accept nothing other than our own intelligence and vision.
A few years ago, I was working at at company that made promotional items and got a call from a client who was looking for an pen to match their brand color, a pantone color. Having not worked there long I asked one of my associates if it was possible for us to search our online cataloge in that way. “oh, no” I was told “we cant do anything like that” All of the data was obviously in a database, in our computer and all known information. The thing lacking was either the skill or the desire to make the most of the resources that are easily available.
It seems that in many cases we are more interested in maintianing the status quo or our comfort zone than exploring what is possible and profitable. A recent article mentioned that banks outdated approach to IT could lead to their demise as they are unable to cope with disruptive technology. If you are standing on a slowly revolving disk, you need to keep moving slightly to keep staring at the same spot. Technology is making changes faster and that perimage our lives more and more every day. We need to let go of our desire for the status quo and understand that change is the order of the day and as the rate of change accelerates, we have to learn to cope or be swept away by the tide of innovation.
Let’s cut to the chase, we know that technology changes society. The idea of disruptive innovation has been around for a while but while – that being that innovations disrupt markets is not carried over to the idea that technology also disrupts society seems to be glossed over as a cost of business. Yet as technology continues to change the parameters of our existence, it doesn’t seem to take into account the human cost which, as long as we cannot profit from it (yet) can either not be measured or be something to be concerned with. But how are we to go on when all the guideposts we were given have been bleached out by the ever-increasing glare of technology. We try to order our life by rituals by moments in time that we attach importance no longer seem to matter. Growing up we were taught that certain things were important, having dinner together as a family, a basic connection to one another, and a common agreement as to what was important. However, technology seems to have erased our past like footsteps in the sand. While my childhood weekends were spent outside riding my bike to a friends house, playing games with the neighborhood kids coming home only when the street lights came on at night.
Today, my kids spend their weekends in their rooms glued to their screens, watching life as opposed to living it. Friends are spoken to online, no need for face to face interactions. The ideas some of us may have been raised with have now become quaint museum pieces. A job isn’t something that you have for life, there is no 40-year watch on your retirement any more (I still have my grandfather’s watch given to him on his retirement) but it has become a transitory relationship, a landing point till something else comes along. Friends are not people but clicks on Facebook pages. Why experience something when we can see it from the safety of our room- as there are no new frontiers, at least we can watch the reruns of the old ones.
And yet, how are we to understand this recreated world when we find ourselves lost in a hall of mirrors, where all our maps have become obsolete. We cant raise our children to hope for a better life than what we had as everything is so different we don’t know what is to come. We dare not put a value on anything for the future may convert our diamonds into handfuls of dust. What else to explain this old white man rage, this shaking fist at a furious rate of change that could leave them in a cloud of irrelevance. Our octagenarian leaders sit wag their double chins at the marvels that the computer age has brought, both creating and destroying. Media brings us a constant barrage of dystopian messages only serve as a signal of the old orders distrust of the future and the loss of their value. Hopefully, that marking will too fall by the wayside like a bleached out road sign in the desert.
Here at the Galaxy, we try to keep a cool head, the Dow drops 800 points, we shrug. People put in cages, we don’t flinch. People of colour being used for target practice- what is new, we say. It was only the discovery of a BBC blog, How Much of Your Body is Your Own? that really made us stop and think. Once you enter some basic information, your birthday, height and weight, you can get an idea of the number of minerals in your body and the relative value of your body- elementally speaking. With the hydrogen in my body worth $1,147 – it got us thinking. As our capitalist system is based on the idea of exploiting resources since we are exploiting the earth’s natural resources, why are we not exploiting the human resources literally at our fingertips? (The very title of the article makes us clear, how much of our body is our own- perhaps we are just borrowing it from the powers that be) Why should we tax corporations to provide a universal living wage so that we can continue to purchase the dross they provide us with when we can exploit our own personal wealth to keep the system going? We are finding ways to renegotiate our life support wages, paying weekly as opposed to bi-weekly so that we have the cash to spend sooner- life is short after all- and we already have a system in place for collateral-based loans, why not use our bodies as our collateral? Indeed, for many of us, they are truly the only value that we have if we don’t have the education, inherited wealth or power or good fortune to become a YouTube sensation for our ability earn clicks or tweets.
We have two kidneys, why not pawn one or better yet sell one so that we can have the latest I phone or pay our rent. Why not get an advance on the value of the elements in our bodies so that we can continue to keep the ever-upward spiral of capitalism going? We can already make a market in bone marrow, hair and even feces so why not? In fact, why should we not farm body parts as we farm the earth, we already sell our plasma and our blood, why not kidneys, livers and even body parts to those who can pay for them? We are already doing it when we are dead but why wait when we can still purchase things- honestly, isn’t that what we are here for?
While it has been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a movement to do away with people in the workplace and perhaps in general, the boldest faced example of this was seen recently in the Wall Street Journal article, “Everyone Hates Customer Service. This Is Why.” It seems that companies have started crunching data and using artificial intelligence to determine exactly how angry a customer has to be to hang up on a customer service call and finding a to step in just before that happens. While working to save a customer has seemed to be good business all along, now the point seems to be to push them off until they get to a breaking point before you take action to try to redeem the relationship. It seems almost unfathomable that this strategy would be suggested or even endorsed in any other situation. How would you feel if your boss decided he was going to abuse you until you were ready to quit and only then to decide to take any redemptive action. Would you accept this from coworkers or even your wife?
When we learn, when will we remember that companies are there to serve us, that we are not their servants? Since when do we have an obligation to a corporation that sells us goods or services? Is their obligation to us not greater than their obligation to them- are they not there to serve us? And yet we have become so desensitized to our own power, we cower in fear only hoping that they will continue to provide us internet, phone service, and even government. We can’t help ourselves from giving up our data so that we can be turned into force-fed veal dining on our own waste. Have we no dignity left? What is our purpose here- do our lives have a value other than an immediate material gain- and not even for ourselves but for those so engorged on money and power that they either don’t see or don’t care the effect of their gluttony?