Category Archives: Society

What Can We Learn from Your Auto Saved Drafts?

The days of losing our emails or documents because we forgot to save our work are almost over. Software such as Word or services like Gmail, auto save your work at regular intervals so that in the event your computer crashes or your connection is lost, you’ll still have a draft somewhere. There is no doubt, the auto save feature is extremely helpful.

An email message can go through quite a number of iterations before it is sent. What can we learn about a person based on how they come to a final version of an email?  And what can we learn about the relationship between the person sending the email and the person receiving the email? I think there is just as much information in what we choose NOT to share as there is in what we choose to share.  Facebook appears to agree.

Facebook keeps the information that you choose to share and the information that you don’t choose to share. That’s an immense amount of data.  If correlated and analyzed properly, it could shed light on quite a bit about our minds and personalities.

Psychologist House Call

Psychologist House Call

Very few of us are free from conflicting thoughts and emotions. We are not single minded, rather, we are all a collection of desires and beliefs that are sometimes at odds with each other.  For example, the internal debate you might have over picking junk food vs health food for dinner. Using two chess players as an analogy, the mind plays against itself at times.  As with chess, and many other games, you can learn a lot about the players based on how they play.

The Mind at Odds with Itself

The Mind at Odds with Itself

Some of these intellectual battles come to the surface when we communicate with other people. They happen almost too quickly to be analyzed when we are talking. Except in cases of parapraxis, Freudian slips.  Writing an email is a much slower process. And there is a physical record of changes made to the communicated message. The folks over at Google, owners of Gmail, are experts at collecting data and analyzing it. They’re sitting on a treasure trove of information about the human condition. I’m hopeful that it will be shared and used to help in areas such as anti terrorism and mental health.

Humans Artificial Intelligence and Synths

Billionaire CEO and founder of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk has voiced serious concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) recently. Other prominent figures such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have also indicated that AI is potentially one of humanity’s greatest threats.

We only need to look at the fossil record to realize that our place as humans, the dominant species on this planet, is anything but permanent. The arrival of homo sapiens (modern humans) marked the end of at least two other proto humans, Denisovans and Neanderthals. Fortunately for Neanderthals and Denisovans, some of their population bred with modern humans.  Thus, some of their genes live on according to DNA evidence. It’s also somewhat apparent once you compare the facial features of Neanderthals to some modern humans.

Neanderthal Facial Features

Neanderthal Facial Features

Neanderthals Bred with Homo Sapiens

Neanderthals Bred with Humans – It’s in the face too

What will be left of us after the next phase of our evolution? We can’t seem to help but create technological versions of ourselves. It’s almost like a biological imperative. Maybe the underlying “purpose” of all our technological advancement is to create that next step in the evolutionary progression. In much the same way religion says God created us in his image, will we do the same for the life we create?

I’ve recently started watching the show “Humans”. In that world, people have created artificial beings called Synths. The Synths live among us and there is concern that they might replace us. They look human, they sometimes act human, and their existence poses and existential threat to us because they can do almost anything we can do. Yet they do not get sick, they are immortal, they learn faster and retain it all.

A Synth Reads to Child

Synth Reads to Child While Mom Looks on Nervously

Robots, androids and Synths in the physical world are easy enough to spot. What happens if the AI evolves somewhere inside a super computer and has access to the internet? Would we know of its existence?

Imagine what a super intelligent, artificial mind with direct access to all the systems connected to the web could accomplish. It would make the best human hackers look like amateurs. It could manipulate financial markets, accrue wealth by creating or taking over bank accounts, alter the information we receive online, digitally create pictures and videos that look like real world events or even create new goods and services. Right now it is possible for an American sitting in his or her home to contract Chinese manufacturers or Indian programmers to create a variety of apps or items without meeting anyone in person. All made possible by the digital economy. A consciousness in cyberspace could easily create real world, tangible items. If there was a task it could not accomplish in the physical world, it could hire someone to do it via sites like Craigslist. With enough money, masquerading as one human or 1000’s of humans online, there is virtually no end to what an AI could accomplish. It could even steer the course of our society’s development or downfall without us knowing it.

Think of it this way, what if there was a human hacker dedicated exclusively to you. He could read all your emails and listen to all your phone calls. He could hack all the microphones on your various devices so that he could hear private conversations. He could see your search history and the sites you visit.  With all this information, the hacker would get to know you very well. This hacker, if human, would have limitations on the number of people he could monitor and derive useful information from. An AI, with sufficient computational resources could do this to millions of people simultaneously. It could customize, for each of us, the news, images and information that we consume… therefore, heavily influencing the decisions we make. An internet based AI could wage “war” on humanity without firing a shot.

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A Live Version of Google Street View

Many of you are probably familiar with Google Maps. You can search just about anywhere in the world and see a map of that area. In some places there is even an option to click on “Street View”. This allows you to see a picture type image that is navigable. It’s quite amazing because you can turn and view 360 degrees and even walk virtually down a street. Google accomplishes this amazing feat by sending cars rigged with cameras that capture panoramic views. Their cars have traversed almost every road in the United States and many parts of other countries.

Google Street View

Google Street View Car

Street View has already captured 100s of human beings engaged in a variety of activities; from the mundane to the downright scary.

People on Google Street View

People on Google Street View

People on Google Street View

People on Google Street View

People on Google Street View

People on Google Street View

What happens when the Street View feature of Google Maps is enhanced with a “Live View”? For the past several decades, mass media has brought distant events directly into our living rooms. Reporters in Selma, Alabama were able to capture images that shocked and changed a nation during the Civil Rights movements in the 60s.

Selma Alabama Protests

Police Brutality in Selma, Alabama

For the first time, a majority of Americans could see the brutality being unleashed upon African Americans as they marched for the right to vote. Soon thereafter, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. Currently, most endeavors of kindness, violence or injustice are never captured for the world to see. Orwellian prophecies aside, if history is any indicator, more eyes in more places equals more justice.

It’s probably only a matter of time before the cameras that are already on most street corners of major cities are patched in to a live-type view for all to scrutinize. Military satellites are presently capable of reading the text of a newspaper in your hands from space. In the future, when the private sector has this capability it might be combined with cameras on the ground to provide live video of anywhere in the world. It’s likely that no single entity could process what is monitored everywhere. Rather, there will be millions of average people watching random areas of the world at any given time for fun, curiosity or other reasons. With a simple point and click, these videos will be shared across social media vastly contributing to our self awareness as a species.

It’s possible that one day, solar powered microscopic omni directional cameras will be mass produced. Millions could be dropped and networked all over the globe. Some sticking to trees, some sticking to buildings and other structures. With wireless energy transfer, cameras not located in direct sunlight could be charged by remote energy “cell towers”.

Omni Directional Camera

The Model T of Omni Directional Cameras

A recorded live view of everywhere will also produce a historical catalog the likes of which the world has never seen. Software could create a 3 dimensional representation using the perspectives of multiple street cameras and satellite video. Imagine doing a Google search for Times Square, New York during a specific point in time. Using virtual reality you could immerse yourself anywhere any time in the past. And it might not be just for public areas. Home security systems, computers and phones all have cameras that could contribute.

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An App that Knows How You Feel

I recently watched yet another fascinating Ted Talk. It was about an app that measures your facial expressions to determine how you feel. Watch it below.

If this technology is successful, the number of applications for it will be enormous. Rana touched on just a few examples.

What might be some of it’s long term effects on our society? What happens when we have Google Analytics for your emotions?  You face a video camera every time you look at your smart phone. And if you work at a computer for extended periods of time, chances are you’re facing a video camera for hours a day. That’s a lot of potential data. With mounds of data, there is the potential to vastly improve our lives.

Let’s assume that happy people are more productive and beneficial to society, government and corporations. We might see the use of our emotion data to improve the quality of our lives.  The media that we consume will react to our reactions to it. Over time it might become very efficient at making us feel the way it wants us to feel. Hopefully, it will be a positive emotion.

The mental health field might be able to help many more people with this data. What if individuals with certain conditions, depression to schizophrenia, exhibit patterns of facial motions?  Programs and apps might be able to pick up on those patterns. Potential patients could be somehow connected to a mental health professional.

Imagine existing security, street or other types of video cameras monitoring our emotions via our faces. If this technology turns out to be reliable, there will be an incentive to have as many cameras as possible to monitor as many faces as possible.  More cameras in public and more cameras integrated in to your appliances. What happens when parents or loved ones can get an automatic text alert, Facebook post, Tweet…. when you are feeling depressed?  Might we all start paying more attention to the emotional state of the people in our lives?

Grandpa This Should Cheer You Up

Grandpa This Should Cheer You Up

There will be data on the happiness of nations. We’ll know what country has the happiest citizens. Maybe this is how we move toward measuring the success of a society using multiple types of metrics, not just economic ones such as GNP (Gross National Product).

If laws do not keep up with this technology it may quickly be assimilated into all our devices. Our consent will be in some agreement we check off, never having read the whole thing. Big data firms will crunch numbers and compare what they know about us now to the patters of facial expressions we exhibit in a myriad of situations. The conclusions they reach could revolutionize areas such as marketing, entertainment and health care.

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Images the Human Brain has not Evolved to See

With the advent of the modern entertainment industry, human beings are exposed to a myriad of images each day. Many of the images or sequences of images would have been impossible in the distant past. For example a picture of your grandmother as a teenager, next to a picture of her as an adult approaching senior years. Seeing images of the same person as simultaneously young and old would have been an extremely foreign experience to our ancestors. This luxury of being able to see, compare and contrast an individual’s change over decades, at a glance, is new.

Decades Condenced into Milliseconds

Decades Condensed into Milliseconds

We also encounter an over abundance of gruesome images, sexual images and computer enhanced images. Our evolutionary environment bared only a passing resemblance to the things we see every day on the screen and real life.

Almost everyone reading this will have witnessed a murder or brutal act of violence via television. Yet only a small, small fraction of people would have witnessed such things in primeval times (during peace time). To witness such things they would have had to see them in person. What was once reserved for the unfortunate few who witnessed violent acts, is now seen by nearly all, at least monthly.

Humans also evolved to be in villages of only a few 100 people with tens of potential mates to see and choose from over the course of their entire lives. Now the average person will see 1000s of members of the opposite sex by the time they are 25. What effect does this have on our mating practices?

Mate Selection within the Mega-Tribe

Mate Selection within the Mega-Tribe

Our minds did not evolve experiencing many of the conditions that are so familiar to us now in modern society. We still have the same brains our ancestors had 1000s of years ago. How do these new types of conditions effect the way our brains operate and evolve?

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