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.
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?
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.