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.
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.
Recently, I have become to notice a difference in verbiage in how we relate to ourselves. We seem to be referring to ourselves as humans and not so much as human beings. While most may simply think of this as a grammatical trifle, it seems to hold a deeper and more disturbing meaning. The omitted word “being” is telling. We seem to be disregarding the fact that we exist in time and space, that we are not just hollow space holders. As Howard Beale in “Network” proclaims, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!” yet our words betray a slippery slope. We will trade our being for an undisturbed solitude, We will trade a panorama for a panoramic setting on our cell phone camera. We are sated watching a live event in front of us through the friendly confines of our mobile phone screen. Instead of experiencing a moment in time we step back from reality into a loop of prepackaged pre-approved pablum. Of course, it is easier to be lulled to sleep than to be roused to action, indeed many would exchange many civil liberties just to be left alone.
What to do, perhaps the next best step is not to get mad but to stop and embrace the gift of the present.
There was always that one guy in High School (at least when I was in high school) who would go to the mat to try to make you believe that Paul Mc Cartney was dead. True to form, the urban legend states that in 1967 Paul McCartney had been killed in a traffic accident while driving along the M1 motorway. While there was no real proof, only rumors, and hazy evidence, the rumor persisted and still has its followers today. The insecurity of the past, the idea that we can’t be sure of what really happened can take many forms, from a false memory, where a person recalls something that did not happen or differently from the way it happened but the idea is taken to a whole new level around 2014 when a concept “The Mandella Effect” began to take hold. It seems that some people remembered Nelson Mandela’s tragic death in a South African prison, prior to late 2009. (In this reality, Mandela died in 2013.) The idea being that someone had gone back to tamper with the past and re-set our experience of it. While we have often spoken of cyber truth in this blog, this idea seems to take the idea into a much larger and more terrifying realm. While a computer could easily erase our bank records we like to think that we have some memory of what happened and that other people could confirm our story. However, the more terrifying reality is that we could find ourselves in a George Bailey like fate, alive and remembering a world in which he never existed. As we continue to hear more tales of data being stolen, do we not see that the true goal may not be just our data but the very fact that we ever existed?
Perhaps it was unique to my neighborhood, but growing up as we played tag or any other number of games, the place that you tried to get without being tagged was called “ghoul”. Now I am aware that many others may have called it home or safe or maybe even goal but in my neighborhood ghoul meant safety. The sounds of friends saying good night as the summer street lights came on rang in my ears when I saw of Quora having almost 100 million of its accounts hacked only days after Marriott reported that hackers had been penetrating their Starwood network for years, and had compromised the data of 500 million people. It seems that in the cyber universe or cyberverse, nowhere is safe anymore. Indeed, when these instances occur, it seems the those affected are to blame, Quara’s programmers are now forcing affected users to reset their passwords, and it advises them to change these passwords if they’re used on any other websites, as if the blame were on the people for putting their information there in the first place and then not protecting it with passwords that were incorruptible.
While the argument may seem far-fetched, the buck doesn’t stop here. Sexual assault victims are being turned into perpetrators, (how dare they accuse a person of such behavior) school shootings are blamed on the schools; they are not well enough armed or trained in weaponry to defend themselves against the now obvious threat, as if there were protections in place in the past that have been left by the wayside, a childish illusion we have outgrown in this new adult age. Things like going home when the street lights came on in summer, playing outside with friends, or having a safe place which you might call home.
There is an old joke about the performer in the circus who as he gets older keeps falling farther and farther down in the billing. A friend who he hasn’t seen in years sees him cleaning up the elephant dung and asks, “what happened, you were a big star! when the old performer replies, “ Yes but I’m still in show-business!” This punchline came to mind when I read in the BBC that professors at medical schools are finding that their surgery students are losing the dexterity to stitch patients. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says young people have so little experience of craft skills that they struggle with anything practical. It seems that the simple skills that used to be common to us all, cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument are no longer common in today’s young people. While we may be learning skills to help us swipe through screens of pixels, we may no longer be getting the training to live in the real world.
Post-apocalyptic television shows, like the Walking Dead and and movies such as World War Z create a fantasy where we test our survival skills by pitting us against zombies, over the top creatures or even other people in a world removed from the modern conveniences. Yet perhaps we don’t really need the zombies to bring us to our knees, we seem to be doing that for ourselves by losing even the most simple skills we need for survival. While its pretty to think we can navigate a world gone mad, many of us can not across town without a strong internet connection. So while we may not be able to stitch up a wound, at least we can do our Cyber Monday shopping in record time.