Over Fifty and Scared of Technology

ready-featuredComputers and technology have come a long way the last few years. People are wondering, and asking the question, "Are we ready for this?" For example, the computer built by IBM which was named Watson, and competed against humans on the TV show Jeopardy, has had its performance abilities increased by 240 percent, and is now being used to help diagnose and treat lung cancer and to help manage health insurance decisions and claims.

It's been fed 1500 lung patient studies and 2 million pages of text from journals, textbooks and treatment guidelines. Doctors can plug in the data using a computer of a specific case, and the computer will analyze it and suggest what treatment is most like to be successful for the patient. Of course, the article from the CTV website is quick to point out, that the computer is not making a decision on the patients' treatment -- just saving the doctors a lot of leg-work. Are we supposed to accept this as the truth?

Another article from The Wall Street Journal, Letting the Machines Decide, is using artificial intelligence to help decide stock market investments. Again, they say the machine doesn't make decisions, just suggestions. Every morning it recommends a list of stocks to buy or sell.

being-human-ebookIn 2008, Microsoft Research published Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020, and it's about Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and how it should be in the year 2020. It asks, " What will our world be like in 2020? Digital technologies will continue to proliferate, enabling ever more ways of changing how we live. But will such developments improve the quality of life, empower us, and make us feel safer, happier and more connected? Or will living with technology make it more tiresome, frustrating, angstridden, and security-driven? What will it mean to be human when everything we do is supported or augmented by technology?"

Much of the book talks about how technology needs to be developed by keeping human values in the forefront of new products. But I'm not sure this is the case. For example, a new law that allows driverless cars on California roads. How would you feel, if the school bus picking up your grandchildren to take them to school, didn't have a driver. Microsoft's book says, " These developments raise fundamental questions about how we should live with them [computers], what our relationships should be, together with larger social and ethical issues of responsibility and accountability." Granted the idea behind driverless vehicles is to make the roads safer. Apparently the reaction speed of the driverless car can be as small as 40 milliseconds, while human beings will take at least 500 milliseconds. And... of course they are eliminating human conditions such as fatigue or distraction -- which they say is the blame of most accidents. But if the bus crashes, who do we hold accountable?

What about discipline on the bus?

That's what drones are for! Most people see drones as a controversial weapon prowling over foreign battlegrounds. But as America's military campaigns wind down, these machines are coming home and set to change civilian lives forever. We have all heard the United States government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2004 using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division. But drones are set to be employed at home, on a smaller scale, and for various purposes. There isn't any reason why these couldn't be on a school bus and programmed to intervene if the children should become unruly. Drones are becoming accessible to the general public, and in another couple of years, they expect there will be thousands of them in the air. Watch the video below to learn more about it.

If you watched the video, you will see how the theme of non-violence is promoted; similar sentiments prevail in "Being Human"  -- but it isn't convincing enough. There are a couple of comments in the video that imply the same technology could be used against us, by people less ethical. Perhaps even by countries who are tired of having the United States impose their will upon them.

And what happens then?

US Drone Strike statistic based on research by a team of journalists of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

(As of 10 January 2013)

  • Total strikes: 362
  • Total reported killed: 2,629 – 3,461
  • Civilians reported killed: 475 – 891
  • Children reported killed: 176
  • Total reported injured: 1,267 – 1,431

Moore's law is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The period often quoted as "18 months" is due to Intel executive David House, who predicted that period for a doubling in chip performance (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and their being faster)

Although Moore's law was initially made in the form of an observation and forecast, the more widely it became accepted, the more it served as a goal for an entire industry. This drove both marketing and engineering departments of semiconductor manufacturers to focus enormous energy aiming for the specified increase in processing power that it was presumed one or more of their competitors would soon actually attain. In this regard, it can be viewed as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If it really is a self-fulfilling prophecy, could the video clip below become our new reality?

Some might say the above video clip is nothing more than fantasy. But there are countries racing right now to build the most life-like android, and if you take into account Moore's law, we are pretty close to it right now. What do you think would be a good guess? Fifteen years? Twenty? Fantasy can become reality. If you look at the 1966 television series, Star Trek --  scientists have pushed to develop some of the technologies portrayed in that show.

Two days ago, Canadian actor William Shatner, best known as Star Trek's Captain Kirk, hailed the International Space Station and chatted with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield about the risks faced in space and rumours that Hadfield has volunteered to go to Mars.

The Huffington Post, in a recent article said:

An image posted by Nasa on 30 January and taken with the right Mastcam on Curiosity shows what appears to be a 0.5cm metal spoke protruding out of a rock.

The strange sight - which looks a bit like a robotic arm - was noticed by imaging editor Elisabetta Bonora from Italy.

Technology is developing at such a rapid speed, one can't help but wonder if we're ready for this. It would seem that some of those behind these developments missed reading Being Human, and although it might be a little out-dated now, I think the concepts presented in the book are fundamentally sound. If you have children working in the field technology advancements, you could share this free pdf book with them. We want to make sure the future is about people, not machines or computers. They are only tools to assist us.

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