Sentient Programs Will Make Life Orderly

Tech Brain

 

How many times have you wished for a device that could handle the mundane tasks of life so that you could have more free time to do the stuff that you’d want to do? Yes, well necessity (or a desire for free time) might be the mother of invention, but the next leap in modern mundane management (say that three times fast) may be here, and her name is Amy.

For those of you who saw the movie Her, it’s nothing that fancy yet, however, the company X.ai (pronounced X-dot-A-I) has been making strides and I first heard about it from WNYC’s New Tech City. The promise of the new intelligent program is that all your daily scheduling for work can be handled by software. Even more alluring is the ease of use by just CC’ing the system’s email address and Amy will take care of it all, balancing the back and forth until a time is selected and putting it into your calendar. The question now is how will people respond to Amy Ingram (yes, her initials are A.I.)?

Taking a tangent, much of this work relates to Alan Turing’s work during WWII.  This takes what is really a computational problem and coding so many potential answers and experiences that the machine will be able to assess all situations and respond appropriately. Theoretically, humans aren’t necessarily superior to these machines and programs, we’ve just had much more time to evolve our thinking and processes. What was deemed the unbreakable Enigma in the 1940s really just required more computational prowess than a human brain could process in the limited window that a particular code was active. Amy’s coded experience is guided by information processing around known patterns in scheduling and as it has stayed somewhat consistent, has much less randomness than we’d expect. However, Turing’s test for whether a user was human or a computer would get a run for its money as people have begun responding to Amy with “Thank you” and other polite interactions that we’d generally associate with human to human interactions. The programmers have begun adapting to this and we may soon be at a point where if you weren’t aware of her origins, you might assume Amy was a real person.

As communicators with tech savvy, Millennials may see this as a great step forward. Think of how much time can be saved if you don’t have to message back and forth over multiple days and track multiple message strings to make sure you have the correct data. The larger thought is that this might have a dampening effect on the perception of human superiority. If we can create machines that mimic and plan for every eventuality, and learn from us in the way that we have evolved and learned over the years, it may open up deeper philosophical questions on the human experience.


Think AI will make life easier? Are we giving up too much to machines? Share your thoughts

The Network We Need

lightning icon

 

I can say with 99.99% certainty that if you are reading this, you may have a need for a new network, but it may not be a network service provider that you would normally consider. I’m not referring to ISPs for the fastest download connections, but rather the grid that brings you energy to power your laptop, tablet, or other mobile device. For such a technologically centered society, we rely on a tenuous network of wires to make sure all our energy needs are met. If we are to advance, we may need to consider some alternative networks and evaluate what makes an effective network for a vital utility.

After reading another article on the subject of smart grids from TechCrunch, I recall the necessity for a better system each time the lights flicker or go out for extended periods. We’re only two years on from a devastating hit during Hurricane Sandy, but I recall outages of all sizes, including in 2003 when the Eastern seaboard of Canada and the US went out because a tree limb overloaded a line. The strength of a network, as in a chain, is only as strong as the weakest link, and we need to consider how to add redundancies for increased effectiveness in a crisis. Some of the recommendations from this article include very sensible steps, but may not go far enough to cover what we need. Renewable energy and smart meters are only part of the solution as the network infrastructure must be responsive to unplanned events.

In the next stage of networked grids, a homeowner will have a multi-stage system to keep the lights on. Renewable energy collection from solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal sources will come into a home and power all needed consumption during normal operation. Smart meters will also direct the electricity to other areas around the local grid as demand rises and falls. One challenge today is that if there is an outage, solar panels and other energy collection sources shut down to prevent overloads and shock hazards. If there is excess energy, a future grid might benefit from enhanced battery capacities or other energy storage such as stored potential energy such as producing hydrogen through electrolysis. If one pocket of users goes down, a resilient network will be able to maintain itself while repairs are made to the smaller affected area much like today’s holiday lights with one burnt out bulb no longer affecting the entire string of lights.

From a technology perspective, as well as a communication or Millennial perspective, the need for and benefits of this system would work to bridge the gaps in the system. We may not see ourselves as constantly connected in a wider system, but it helps get a focus on the bigger picture. If I can make sure I have power, and my neighbors are safe in an outage, then my neighborhood is protected from a potential crisis. Technology of all kinds, especially social media, makes us feel we are in control and able to reach anyone. However, if that system goes down, we don’t have the redundancies to see us through a crisis. By building in redundancies now and helping connect us with others in our society, it may serve to keep the lights on as well as grow the world community we wish to have.


Share your thoughts on interconnected grids and communication. How do you share the power?

Image Is Everything

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and related phrases may be going out of vogue as a new app tries to change the market and change the way we think about communication and engagement. The app, Looksery, takes video chatting to a new level by promising a way to create a personal avatar that you can adjust to change physical characteristics. Do you want a different eye color? Care to slim your bone structure? Have a blemish that just won’t go away? The app may help change certain physical features for the moment, but there are far reaching concerns amid the promise of self design.

Some Millennials, and the cohort that followed us, have spent so much time growing up with screen time that they seem to lag behind others in their communication competencies and ease of face to face contact.  This does not mean we can’t communicate, but the various skills and cues one uses in face to face conversations in person are unique to that kind of contact as online phrases and meaning are unique to digital life. Adding one more way to curate our personal image would not be a negative thing save for the lack of focus on interpersonal communication and engaging with others.

This app reminds me of an episode of The Jetsons. Jane (the wife/mother) gets a phone call from a friend, but because this cartoon takes place in the future, it’s a video call rather than a standard telephone. During the conversation, each participant speaks to the other while holding up a mask as they did not have time earlier to apply makeup or style their hair. A comedic moment occurs as one of the masks falls, but it says something of our society when we are so afraid of showing our frailties, blemishes, or true self. The concern that this app will be that next step of concealing our true selves may be unfounded, but we should remain mindful of the possibility. The digital advances which connect us so easily, have widened the gaps in our real connections, and we must find ways to both protect and share our true selves with our desired contacts. Image may be important, but we should focus on the relationship connection over appearances that fade and change with time.

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Are you anxious to change your video persona? Share your thoughts and continue the conversation.

My Wallet is Ringing

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Exhibit 1: Analog Wallet

Apple’s announcement and release of ApplePay on last Monday may have far reaching repercussions for digital commerce, but will it deliver everything that it promises?

Comparing two stories on the matter from TechCrunch and The Wall Street Journal, there are many  pros and more than a few cons for the technology. If Millennials have learned nothing else, we appear to have a healthy understanding that we can’t believe everything we see and hear unless we investigate. We could also speak from experience on how once unknown technology is now ubiquitous and we can’t go more than (insert length of time) until we need to use it again. Apple’s goal with the new release is to make analog wallets obsolete while payments and card information can be carried on a central device already in our pockets. In support of this technology, centralization has been a key to human ability in communication and increased productivity. Without a centralized nervous system, for example, the signals we receive from the world might not reach the system administrator (the brain) in a timely way to promote the health and safety of the individual. The centralized wallet, phone, computer, calendar, music player, etc. is the next progression of our interface with the wider world, but what is the cost of this efficiency?

I remember my first cell phone. It was a brick. I didn’t even have the simple “Snake” game, but it fulfilled the purpose of its design. I would upgrade phones through the years, but it wasn’t until my first networked smartphone that I began to have the feeling of “missing something” if I walked out of my house without it. The “fear of missing out” that we describe these days, was more an issue that I felt I lacked access to a necessary tool for today’s society. Now if we combine a wallet with our phone, how will that affect our feeling of participation in the larger society? People who feel “naked” without their phone, may be literally locked out from controlling their lives if something should happen to their hardware. Society has made us cybernetic creatures and losing access to the network could be as debilitating as losing an appendage or one of our senses.

I’ll take the optimistic road and say that there is value in this convergence, but I don’t know if ApplePay will usher in the next leap. I lean towards humanity on the spectrum of technological determinism, and we need to remember that technology is fallible too. Our abilities to communicate, purchase, and  engage will continue to converge, but as Millennials (and all generations) we need to remember the strengths of previous practices to grow productively, and not fear potential future disruptions.


What are your thoughts on digital wallets? Share your thoughts and continue the conversation.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s…

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Drones! It was bound to happen eventually, and for my part, I am still working through my feelings on the subject. There are so many ways in which humans communicate, that those of us in the media world should have anticipated this development and try to create ways of dealing with the new technology. For background on the topic, check out this article from Ars Technica on the FAA’s recent allowance of 6 Hollywood studios the rights for regulated drone filming.

Now, dear readers, I’m sure quite a few of you are reading this and thinking, “Why bring this up now? Aren’t drones in use already?” and “What does this have to do with Millennials?”

Yes, drones have been in use for certain industries for a few years now, but most of those instances were localized and the FAA here in the US has needed some time to work through the tangled web of issues surrounding this new technology. Even the film industry is no stranger to drones as location filming of action sequences and other prominent scenes (e.g. the James Bond film Skyfall had scenes in Istanbul) has taken place in other countries. The challenge now is the scope of the use comparing, for instance, a real estate developer, film studios, and even law enforcement. Each industry, and many others, can benefit from the change of perspective, but our society has yet to develop organized guidelines for use governing, personal, business, and law enforcement applications.

As this takes time to work out, Millennials are poised to gain in the new job markets created by drone use. All those hours playing video games will likely help flight operations, not to mention our comfort with cameras. However, this new technological step crosses many boundaries, some physical, and others societal. We’d like to believe that everyone within a society can recognize and respect boundaries, but drones which permit an operator to cross over a physical boundary, (e.g. walls, rivers, etc.) to film property, endangered wildlife, or people, is just a further crossing of that societal boundary.  It would be very challenging (if not impossible) to monitor the use of drones around the country, and we need to have laws that ensure the protections of privacy and safety for those who may be within the camera’s filed of focus. We have laws against unlawful searches, as well as against invasion of privacy that must catch up with the technology.

A harmonious future would allow the use of this new platform for cameras, local deliveries, even safety monitoring of weather or natural phenomena while respecting the rights of individuals captured in the memory files. If Google earth can map the globe and create features which protect the general public, there must be ways of legislating and innovating to ensure appropriate use of drones. While new tech can cause problems, I think we should be mindful that every new advance comes with a responsibility of power. We can choose to act positively or negatively, and each choice will shape the world we inherit. I for one can’t wait to see what new stories we can tell in film and television with a new perspective.

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How do you see drones affecting our lives and culture? Share your thoughts and comment here.