Monthly Archives: October 2018

It completed me

I’ve always had a healthy skepticism about technology. It’s not that I don’t use technology. Like many I rarely leave a room without some sort of device attached to my hand. And I’m certainly not a Luddite (although I would have been proud to be one in the day) as I spent the later part of my career (yes, I am that old) devoted to making learning online the best experience it could possibly be for those who wanted that experience. But that doesn’t mean I buy in holus bolus to every knicknack or gadget that promises to make my life oh so much better than it already is. “Cause, if I might say so, my life ain’t so bad right now. Besides, how often do you invite the latest and greatest into your life only to discover that without a millennial in the house there’s no possible way to figure out how to make it work? Sure they showed you what to do in the store. But get the thing home and without all that fluorescent lighting nothing looks the same. As for me, you can bet your bottom dollar that, if there’s an “app for that” I’ll take a “pass for that“.

It’s not just figuring stuff out that’s the problem. There’s the whole over promising thing too. Like the self park feature on my car. Pretty exciting, eh? I mean all you have to do is press this one little button and lo and behold, the next thing you know you’re on the sidewalk waiting for the car to finish up and hand you the keys so you can be on your way. At least that’s what I thought it would do. Then I find out the car doesn’t actually find the parking spot for you. It just parks the car and what’s the point of that?  I know how to park a car. The problem is driving around the corner 15 times with the false hope that someone might actually leave just at the moment you sidle up to their spot. Or waiting for the person who has been sitting in the driver’s seat for nigh on 10 minutes (n reverse, I might add) before you realize they clearly have just broken up with their partner and are now calling each and every one of their friends to commiserate about the bum and how they never should have put up with all his/her nonsense in the first place. Fellas, It’s finding the parking space that’s the real problem. When you get that one worked out, call me.

Having said that, every once in a while something comes along that’s right up your alley. Something that fits like a glove, is on target and hits the proverbial nail on the head. Like those rather spendy noise cancellation headphones that you dithered about buying and then wondered what all of the anguish was about the very first time you wore them on a five hour flight and realized you no longer had to listen to the person beside you crunching on chips or worry every time the pilot “dinged” the flight attendant. Your logical self knows she probably just has to use the bathroom but there’s that niggling feeling it could be something else and at 39,000 feet “something else” can be a little disconcerting. Best not to hear at all which makes those buds worth their weight in gold. Then there’s that new fangled device that lets you see who’s at your front door without actually having to be anywhere near your front door. If that means not having to run down the stairs to find out there’s yet another person who wants to paint my “just been painted” house then, as Martha would say, it’s a good thing. But as good as those might be, neither can hold a candle to the hi tech wonder that has recently come into my life. If you ask me, it’s not even a horse race.

As you can probably imagine I spend a fair bit of my time at a computer, much but not all, dedicated to sending and responding to emails. It’s not that I don’t like writing emails. It’s just that so often I say the same thing over and over and over again. Like me, I’m sure that you have thought to yourself “if only there was an easier way”. “If only this computer could read my mind and finish all of my sentences”. Well my friends, you are in for a very pleasant surprise! The other day as I was typing away, much to my amazement my computer started typing all on its own. That’s right! Before my very eyes it was anticipating what it thought I wanted to say and then said it. Without any help at all, it completed me. At first I wasn’t all that receptive to this rather personal intrusion. My immediate reaction was “how do I get rid of this pesky little feature which is clearly something new from those Google peeps?” After all, it can’t possibly actually know what it is I want to say, can it? The truth is, it can’t but the reality is that, most of the time, what it had me say wasn’t so bad. I could live with it. And so it was that I decided to let the computer say what it thought I should say. Rather than the other way around. Which makes a lot of sense if you are a shallow person like me. I mean if it’s willing to do the work why the heck would I not let it? In most cases what I was going to say wasn’t really all that much better anyway.

Of course as it oft does, this got me thinking.  Why just emails? Why not let the computer finish all of my sentences everywhere? I gotta say it would make writing this blog a whole lot easier and I’m pretty sure that my computer could learn to be as shallow as I am in no time at all.

Yeah. Now I’m just gonna sit back and watch that skepticism of mine fade away.

PS: Thank you to the person who left the Starbucks mug on my doorstep. Just a guess but I’m thinking it must be someone who reads this blog as otherwise it was a very uncanny random act of kindness. Gotta admit. The last time I was in Saskatchewan I don’t think there was a SB, let alone a mug dedicated to the “Breadbasket of Canada“. It is very much appreciated and a wonderful addition to my collection!

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

I’m back…sort of

Yes it has been a very long time and no I haven’t forgotten that I am the writer of this blog. So at the risk of sounding perhaps a tiny bit presumptuous it seems that I have had some more important things to do lately. First of all there was that little contract I may have mentioned three, four or five times before. It has kept me busier than expected. And then there was the 103rd birthday party I attended which, if you have ever been to one (and most I am guessing have not) was a really big deal. Beyond that there’s nothing much more to say except that I’m back now….sort of. And I say “sort of” because once again, and not for any reason connected to those excuses I just made, this will be a blog post, but not a shallow blog post. Mostly because I have had a long time to think about what I am going to say next and what better place to say it than in my own blog? At any rate, I do this every once in a while ‘cause even I can’t be shallow all of the time.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, although it may be a surprise to those who don’t, but the thing is I have quite an aversion to dolls. I especially don’t like dolls that can talk, walk, eat, pee or do other things that something without blood coursing through its veins shouldn’t be able to do. And to be totally honest, it’s not just dolls I don’t like. While it’s a little hard to explain, for the most part I don’t like any type of inanimate object made to look like people, animals or even insects. Anything really that can be purposely or accidentally dismembered. Because when things can be dismembered they will be. Like when your little bro’ decides it would be fun to see what Barbie looks like without her head. Or has a grand old time slowly but surely eating each of the parts of a gingerbread man, delivering a virtual play by play in between bites. And it should suffice to say that I can in no way condone the travesties that occur around Easter and Christmas when the markets are flooded with chocolate bunnies, chicks and Santas.

Before you get too concerned let me state categorically that there was no early trauma in my life to blame for this state of mine.  As Ms. Germanotta would say, “I was born this way”. This is not a phobia (I’ve checked) but rather a preference, one which doesn’t have a significant impact on my life. It’s quite simple. My chocolate comes in bars, my cookies are round or square and it’s been a very long time since Barbie has been in my life. Besides, as someone once politely suggested when I explained why I was turning down their offer of a gummy bear, everyone has their quirks. This is mine. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about robots. Because for reasons I am sure you now understand, I don’t like them very much either. And while my problem with other inanimate objects might not have a huge impact on my life or yours, robots will.

In case you missed it, (or as the young people say icymi) not so long ago there was an article in the Globe and Mail, (so most probably not fake news) about a start-up in Vancouver where some very smart people are dedicating their lives to the development of some very smart robots. These robots they proclaim, will “move, speak and think for themselves and interact – as intellectual peers – with real people on a daily basis in intimate and vital roles…” . This, the article goes on to say, “will fundamentally alter the basis of capitalism itself by introducing an entirely new type of synthetic species that could do much of the work now done by humans”.  And not only will this new species talk, walk and think like us, they will also look like us since the creators have determined that we (as in humans) prefer to interface with our own likeness. Just in case you should think that this is some “pie in the sky” hoopla, the writer assures us that Mr. Rose (the fella at the helm of this project) is a successful visionary entrepreneur who is “the closest thing Canada has to Elon Musk”, although given the events of the past few weeks that might not be as stellar an endorsement as one would have previously thought. Nonetheless, it seems to me, even as a shallow person, that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that what these people (yes there is more than one really smart person involved) are doing is just about as big a deal as that 103rd.  

As I made my way through the article, learning perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about things like AGI (that would be “artificial general intelligence”) and the apparent inevitability of robots becoming part of our not so distant, and depending on your perspective Utopian or Dystopian future, I found myself wondering if any of these enthusiastic, and possibly overzealous geniuses had spent even a moment of their time thinking about the ethics of what they are doing.  So you can imagine my relief when quite near the end of this very long article the question of ethics was finally raised. I mean they had to, didn’t they? And they did. In black and white. Because they know there might be issues. Like what would happen if some unscrupulous human got fed up and decided to erase their robot’s memory? Or started taking advantage of their robot? Or treated their robot as a lesser being?

Wait a minute. Am I mistaken or are they thinking more about the welfare of the robots than they are about us humans? Surely these people have thought about how the creation of a whole new species might impact the species that currently inhabits this planet of ours. Alas, it would seem not. When asked “what if thinking robots challenge the goals or motivation systems programmed by humans?” or “who would be responsible if human-like robots commit crimes?” the answer was a very definitive “I don’t have any solid answers to these questions yet.” So here’s a suggestion. Maybe we should all try to come up with a few solid answers to these questions before you start creating robots that can fundamentally change the course of history, not to mention the human race. You know.  In case something goes wrong.

Ok, I’ve gone on a little long so I’ve only got one more thing to say. Truth be told, this whole thing scares me a whole lot more than biting off the arm of a gingerbread man.

BTW…If you want to take a gander on what’s going on in the lab, have a look at this.

All excerpts from Sean Silcoff, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 8, 2018. In the Company of Robots.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: