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.
At times in life, we all need to step back and reevaluate where we are, what we are doing and the functions of things in our life. It seems with the announcing that Peloton had announced losses as it was filing for its IPO, that perhaps we need to rethink the idea of what role a corporation has in our society and economy. For those who might have missed the news, Pelton, in making its move to publicly trade its stock had to make public its finances which showed that it had losses of $196 million dollars. Yet, why should we be concerned, stated the company is “so much more” than a maker of fitness equipment” in short going on to say that Pelton helps people exercise which makes them happy so by extension, Pelton is selling happiness.
With that small matter of insolvency brushed aside like the brow sweat from a brisk walk to the refrigerator, the article goes on to detail the plans the company has to sell its financially, if not morally, bankrupt company. And why should we be surprised? We have had a TV show about nothing, so why not have a company about nothing other than redistributing its wealth from the shareholders, to the management. Studying economics in my youth, we were taught that a corporation was there to provide goods and services to its customers, with that role later changing to add the idea of bringing value to the shareholders. As time has gone on that role has shifted again, now some seem to treat consumers with contempt, look at the continued outrages over poor or non-existent customer service or the opioid crisis basically occurred as companies put profit over people. Now while the courts are finally bringing big pharma to task, here comes Pelton, boldly saying, you want to be happy, give us your money. It will be interesting to see going forward if people will buy into this new fiasco or if they will realize that the emperor has no clothes and all of our money will not buy him any.
The idea that Facebook was creating its own cryptocurrency intrigues on many fronts. First of all the thought that a private company could take over such a large and public space usually occupied by governments. While I am not suggesting that Libra, Facebook’s cryptocurrency will replace government issue money but if we think that this may not create a copy economy we deceive ourselves at our own risk. In a world were retail giants have fallen silent in the face of Amazon, why should we think it impossible that the government wouldn’t outsource the responsibility for creating currency. We outsource many aspects of our military to Blackwater, our prisons are outsourced to private companies, why not our economy. Why suffer the slings and arrows of uncertainty when we can gleefully turn that responsibility to a conglomerate. The only thing that may make this run a fowl would be the fact that only 27% of Facebook users believe that “Facebook is committed to protecting the privacy of my personal information.” while one might forgive even offer up for sacrifice our data for the latest photo of someones the first course, when it comes to our money, I like to think we take things a bit more seriously. But perhaps that is mistaken. While one of those large banks repeatedly stole from customers and yet, after a slap on the wrist from regulators and still, people gladly trade their dignity as consumers to work with a bank of established liars and thieves. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry about businesses too big to fail and worry about the cost of ones that succeed
If banks can be thought too big to fail, maybe we need to work that Facebook may be too dangerous to succeed.
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.