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?

Look! Up in the sky! It’s…

drone1

 

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.

A Gift of Laughter – Remembering Robin Williams

At the time of writing, a conclusive report has not been released. Out of respect for Robin’s family, this post will focus on the joy he brought to the world. May they find peace in their time of grieving. No one in the world needs to feel that they are alone, so take note of the resources at the bottom of this page or reach out to me on the contact page. You are not alone. 

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

If you are a Millennial, you likely have a favorite Robin Williams movie. You grew up with him voicing the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin, you learned about divorce and love in Mrs. Doubtfire, and you likely came to love his comedic and dramatic talents. The shock of hearing of his passing was quite unsettling as Twitter alerted me to the trending topic. As our society has developed technologically, it is as if the entire Twitter-mind became aware of the loss and has been looking for ways to process this information  among each of the end users. As fast as Robin’s mental gears seemed to turn, we might only now be catching up.

For the struggles that he faced, Robin remains an extraordinary example of humanity from his charity work, visiting the troops, and just bringing more laughter into the world with his craft. When interviewed by James Lipton on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” Robin’s response to the question of heaven was that he hoped there would be laughter. Indeed, in so many ways, Robin brought sparks of heaven down to earth with each comedic bit, each character, and story, all working towards an amazing representation of the human condition. How can we here ever hope to show our gratitude for his work and all the laughter?

We are all granted certain talents and gifts. Some people discover their skills early, and some work their whole lives trying to grow and improve. Many comedians wish they could have had his timing and acuity. I enjoy bringing a smile and a laugh to others, but my abilities are better suited to the structured and planned, such as writing. Yet, if we all contribute what we are able, perhaps it will be the first step in repaying all the laughs and gifts that Robin and so many gave before.  We can honor Robin’s memory by trying to make a better world. If one individual can have such an impact on us all, how much more can we accomplish working together on that same goal.

Taking a moment for Robin’s family, we should all send thoughts and prayers as well. Knowing the sadness and loss from a parent’s passing, it is a time for his children to address their feelings as they feel appropriate. It can be disconcerting as we see our parents age and pass away, but we Millennials are seeing more of it as the years progress. Speaking from experience, make time to honor your feelings. It is a very personal journey for anyone who experiences loss, and don’t be afraid to feel or to reach out and ask for help.  Our deepest sympathies to Robin’s wife, children, family, and friends with our hope that the happiness he brought into the world will be a comfort as they grieve.

Finally, if you know someone who is dealing with depression, even if you find yourself depressed, there is no shame in reaching out to someone. Even laughter can hide a lot of pain, but sometimes we need other coping methods to truly work through our emotions or other personal needs. If you or someone you know is in need, visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

No one in the world needs to feel alone, and as long as I’m here, you can reach out to me on my contact page. Please share these contact details with anyone who may need them. You are not alone. 

Graduates, Commence!

Graduation Cap

The tassel is worth the hassle!

On campuses across the country, people celebrate the month of May like no other. Years of effort find reward with a bit of pomp and circumstance as students and families ponder the words of wisdom shared from every lectern. The life lessons imparted by each speaker are as varied as the individuals sharing them; their goal: to prepare students for the life beyond the learning institution.

In preparing some thoughts to share with the class of 2014, I recalled my various graduations and commencements. My toolkit grew over those educational years from basic literacy to advanced equations, small observations to scientific procedures, and inner awareness to shaping external narratives. As I’ve written about grit, my tenacity certainly helped in my achievements, but I owe my many teachers a debt for fueling my love of learning.

To the graduates of 2014, no matter how far you may go in life, never stop the search for knowledge. The persistent pursuit of knowledge gives us a platform for improvement in our lives as well as a deeper understanding of the world around us. When you reach a peak along your path of experience, remember that it is one mountain in a range, and that fulfillment and success do not come from resting on laurels. Human understanding can only advance when people continue to ask questions. With this in mind, I will paraphrase what others have told me: “Trust the person in search of the truth, be wary of the one who claims to have found it.” Nurture a love of learning and discovery in all ways and it will serve you throughout your lifetime. This lesson was given to me by the many teachers on my journey, and I must share it as you newly minted graduates venture on your way.

There is no greater threat to discovery and understanding than certainty. -J.C.

As many graduates turning tassels today are in the Millennial cohort, I thought I’d share another recent item for discussion. I caught a rebroadcast of an Intelligence2(read as Intelligence Squared) debate on the statement: “Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance.” The structure of the debate puts two teams of two on opposing points of the statement and by comparing before and after votes, the team who garners the greatest growth in support wins the debate. I’ll let you listen to the debate or read a transcript if you want to know what happened, but I’ll share a perspective on the premise of the debate.

Those supporting the (rather pessimistic) view of Gen Y’s hardships were not Millennials themselves, but they did state  valid points on the struggles we must face. However, if you have learned anything in your lifetime, whatever your generation, I hope you know that taking someone else’s word for your own success is shooting yourself in the foot. Yes, there are issues that we must face to elevate all of our generation, and society at large, but declarations before results can lead to “egg on face” (I’m looking at you, Thomas Dewey). This connects back to the search for knowledge and understanding. If you recognize the issues that need to be addressed, then you can begin testing or implementing changes to bring about positive results. It doesn’t take an advanced mathematics degree to know how many infinite possibilities exist with the variables in society, but it does take optimism (with a dose of realism) to figure out the next steps forward.

So to you my Gen Y colleagues, I tip my hat to your accomplishments in education. Seek knowledge as though it were the air for your lungs, and stay positive in the face of life’s challenges. These skills will help you go far as you commence to spread around the world.

Carpe Diem!

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Want to share your graduation story or favorite advice? Do you believe Millennials are doomed or destined for success? Listen to the debate and share your thoughts with the Gen Y crowd.

If I Had A…

Hello again dear readers. Quite a few things have happened since the last installment, and we’ll see about addressing them all.

Ever hear the piece “O Fortuna?” You probably have even if you don’t recognize the title. Here is a link for a good version with English translation subtitles:

What’s my point? This piece of music is a widely regarded classic as it is performed often, but it also relates the nature of fortune (O Fortuna), and how events of the last few months have included some highs and lows. Life is, after all,  not a cakewalk every single moment. We persevere with determination and find a way through.

Our world said goodbye to some titans for humanity in these passing months. Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger were both members of a Hero Generation with a civic mindfulness according to Howe and Strauss in their book The Fourth Turning. As Millennials, we too are part of a Hero Generation as our grandparents may have faced crisis in World War II, we must prepare to face the new challenges of fiscal responsibility, unprecedented human connection and communication, and the issues that prevent any person from achieving their best potential.

In considering this post, I’ve also been working on assignments related to a course on leadership. The successes of Mandela and Seeger were due in part to their talents as leaders, but also in their ability to empower their followers. The Millennial generation has some skepticism when dealing with leadership that commands authority, but will likely follow those who “walk their talk.” Leaders like Mandela and Seeger didn’t sit around and say, “If I had __________, I could really do something great.” They looked at their circumstances and tried to use the abilities they already possessed to bring about positive results.

Growth happens over time and new skills are added, but don’t discount what you currently possess in your journey to the future. Sometimes, just knowing that you need to move forward is the most important part.

Here is a link to a live recording of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer.” He even comments about the different versions of the song that have appeared over the years and how they all blend together. A lesson for Millennials to share with the world.

JFK Remembered

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The 1960s were tumultuous, not unlike the world that Millennials and current generations inhabit. The loss of America’s 35th President, John F. Kennedy, remains a mark on our country 50 years to the day of his death. As Millennials faced a defining moment in 2001, many of our parents can recall with a clarity undimmed by the passage of time where they were as the news spread across the world.  In a way, Kennedy embraced ideals that Millennials hold close, and as we remember his legacy today, let us pay respect where respect is due.

Kennedy was a tech guru of his day. We may have better TVs and cameras today, but mastering a new medium like television proved to be one important tool in achieving success. We should note that his family connections and influence did play a helping role in later success, but Kennedy’s mastery of message and  appearance was unsurpassed, if seldom matched. We only need to look at those in the spotlights today to see  what a mismanaged image can cause.

Kennedy’s focus on discussion and communication most likely helped him achieve the presidency when addressing the concerns of people who would not vote for him; this was especially effective as he related his religious beliefs, but showed his dedication to serve all Americans regardless of religious beliefs. Many Millennials understand that there will be different perspectives and opinions, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find some common ground.

Millennials have seen some profound changes since the 1980s, and Kennedy was no stranger to major events like the Great Depression and multiple wars. He learned from these challenging times and found a way to persevere, a quality which Millennials will need to overcome our own challenges. Kennedy’s adaptability is a message for a generations as it will be our path to success. Without pushing for things currently beyond our reach, how could we have achieved the profound advances we have today? We must understand our past to assess our future, and we must always strive beyond our  current means of understanding.

Today we solemnly remember a man who served. He had successes and flaws as all people do, but his contribution and his passing have given him a seat in the American pantheon. Like the word’s said of President Lincoln’s last breath, John F. Kennedy,  “belongs to the ages now.” As we move to the year 2020, we will mark anniversaries and losses of great leaders from the 1960s, but their passing will not be in vain if we can live their messages. Gen Y inherited the optimism and the challenges of our predecessors, and we must continue the journey.

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Share your perspective on Kennedy’s legacy. How can Millennials learn from him to help the world around us? Comment here and keep the story going.

Success – At the College Level

College Textbooks

College isn’t just “Book Smarts”

To my Millennial brethren engaged in the pursuit of higher education, I wish you well. It is a noble thing to advance your mind and abilities, but many pitfalls may appear on your journey. The secret to success comes from to preparing yourself, and trying to make good decisions and take productive actions when plans don’t go as planned.

As a new TA serving in my MA program, I see the faces of my peers (Gen Y), but I also see people who don’t have the level of experience that I have. I do not wish any of my writing to sound condescending, I just wanted to point out that I have some years on these students. It’s easy for those who are further along to look at those just starting and have a superior view, but I treat this assignment to be a TA as one to guide these students as I was fortunate to have good teachers in my own life.

One of the troubling trends that I see, and one that I’ve discussed with other friends in the teaching field, is that for all the work teachers do, there isn’t a high degree of learning happening. Students entering college have likely grown up with countless standardized tests, and their main skill sets are geared to filling in the proper bubble. I’ve taken many of the same tests, but my teachers and my family taught that it was important to know why an answer was the right one on the test, not just which answer would earn another point. If students had to perform in ways of showing mastery of concepts rather than mastering the tests, our educational strength might not seem so hindered.

The teaching to the test mentality has created a situation I refer to as FOF (Fear of Failure). An example of FOF comes from a recent assignment that many students had trouble starting. An assignment of two pages, double spaced, was to be written on the statement that an image chosen by a student would reach a “mythic” level. From the questions I fielded, the students were trying to understand how to get a good grade on the assignment (which I can understand).  When I assured them that they had all the tools they needed,  I believe a few were still unsure. Whether they doubted their abilities, or they weren’t sure how to get a good grade like on a standardized test, I think it shows a need to further develop critical thinking. In explaining the assignment further, I tried to explain that by offering a critique, they would need to find evidence to support their claims. If you can find enough legitimate evidence, you can usually make a compelling case (just make sure to cite your sources).

I realize that my assessment may not possess the full scope, and I acknowledge that the intelligence levels of my students are not in question nor at issue. Learning, I believe, relies heavily not only on the word of those who came before us, but on the self-made mistakes when we roll up our sleeves trying to get at the issue that we seek to understand. I know that I would not appreciate my own achievements if I had not slogged through the education process, but I hope my peers can dive in, knowing that even a wrong answer can lead them on the path to the right one.

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Tell your experiences. Were you a standardized learner? Do you believe we must make mistakes to improve our own knowledge? Share your response here and keep the conversation going.

Millennial On The Go

Hey there faithful followers!

It’s been an interesting time as I started classes and my work as a teaching assistant. Aside from reading, I’m going to be doing more social media projects as part of my assignments. It’s nice when interests intersect with your work.

With that in mind, I’m putting the question to other Millennials: What programs do you use to blog/socialize/keep up with life?

I’m testing out the WordPress app now. A detailed review to follow soon.

A Dream Deferred?

MLK at Wash. DC

Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Fifty years have passed since the historic oration given by King in the summer of 1963. In the years of torment that embroiled the childhoods’ of many Boomers (and the first Gen X-ers), a voice of peace spoke to the masses gathered in Washington DC on that hot August day.

As  a child of 1 Boomer and 1 Quiet, I was raised with a focus on seeing people for who they were, not the characteristics that defined them. This could have had as much to do with my diverse urban environment as my parents and teachers consistently guiding me to value people as people, and not lose myself to quick judgments. Stereotypes may have been helpful when determining snap judgments for survival like food and predators in early times, but in society today it remains an issue rooted in much of the conflicts we face.

We cannot blame stereotypes for all of society’s issues. When lack of knowledge leads to fear and fear leads to hate, no one receives the dream that King envisioned and that so many have struggled to make real. Racism still holds an insidious grip on the hearts of many in this world. It could be much less pronounced, often seen as “inappropriate,” but it still seeks to divide people. It may not be possible to eliminate all snap judgments (again, our brains saving energy and taking shortcuts rather than thinking), but people around the world need to see a shared community that takes the lead over smaller divisive issues. If we see ourselves as part of the community, even disagreements and tough feelings can be addressed effectively.

In preparing this post, I read Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” and thought about the progress that has been made over 50 years. Hughes wrote the poem more than 12 years before the historic march, but the imagery is deeply prescient for today’s society. The poem questions what happens to a deferred dream, and over the years I believe there have been moments to match each description. We have entered the crust stage as people try to sugarcoat the issues of racism claiming to be in a “post-racial” world. The issue is still there, only our treatment has changed. The same could be said of the equally insidious problem of poverty in this country when so many work and can’t reach financial equilibrium because the system won’t allow it.

Millennials may focus much on the inner self, but when it comes to the suffering of others, we don’t think it appropriate to sit by and do nothing. To be frank, we feel it’s the right of every individual to achieve the level of personal development that the individual wishes, and things like racism and poverty aren’t helping that process. As trials and legislation flash through the 24 hour news cycle, we must try to see the issues from all perspectives and find ways of balancing justice and amending the habits and the hurts of our past.

In order to make King’s dream a reality, we need to see ourselves as the people of the dream. We must embrace our neighbors, respect all people as they are, and live as part of a larger community. No great accomplishment or terrible wrong was ever achieved by a sole agent. If we are to remove hate and discrimination, raise families with a means of self subsistence, and make peace happen, it will be because we said “NO!” to division and “YES!” to working in unity for a better future.

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A question to my fellow Millennials: How do you see King’s dream being made a reality? What things are preventing that reality, and what can we do to overcome them?