Thursday, October 29, 2015

A.I. Boom or Doom?

Artificial intelligence advances are accelerating. Today, cellphones can be verbally instructed to find specialty restaurants or movie theaters, or asked virtually any question. Most recognize that, sooner or later, safer self-driving cars will replace human-drivers. In the medicine, computers make faster and more accurate diagnoses and can train medical students. Robots are taking over from human doctors for delicate procedures. New AI products and techniques are being announced with startling rapidity. Only specialists can keep track.

Fifteen years ago, in March 2000, I wrote (1):

It has been estimated that synthetic intelligence will exceed that of humans within about 30 years. At what stage will a machine have an independent legal identity to protect its life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? As the development of artificial body-parts advances to the replacement of whole human segments, perhaps even the brain, when will human identity cease and machine identity commence?

If I can download my entire consciousness to a machine and my physical body shows inferior characteristics, at what stage will I choose to survive in synthetic form and discard the organic original? And, when the organic body is shut down, what are the social, moral, legal and theological implications? Will my synthetic being maintain my legal status?

The new millennium brings with it enormous changes in all areas of human consciousness. Perhaps we will enter the era of trans-human, or even post-human existence. In all spheres of consciousness – social, philosophical, spiritual – we must begin to consider the ramifications and prepare for them

In 2015, the world is already halfway towards those predictions. Let’s prognosticate on the possibilities

AI & Robotics are Here

A Pew Research report predicts that by 2025, AI and robotics will be integrated into nearly every aspect of most people’s daily lives. (2)  Beyond the consequences of human labor replacement, there’s more to worry about – AI will increasingly keep demanding additional resources and will be more and more in charge . (3)

Peter Diamandis thinks that advances in AI will be a key to helping in a new era of "abundance” with enough food, water, and comfort for all humans. (4) Skeptics, and I’m starting to be one of them, worry about the consequences of AI and robotics.

Ray Kurzweil Prognostications

The futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil has predicted that human-level AI will be achieved by 2029. Beyond that date, Kurzweil has forecasted the Singularity when humans can blend and merge with machines, to become immortal. (5)

Projecting beyond the next few decades, it’s evident that machines will be smarter than humans at just about everything. Computers will eventually be able to program themselves, understand massive quantities of information, and “think” in ways that ordinary humans cannot imagine. And they won’t need to take breaks or relax. There will be few jobs left – for entertainers, performers and creative categories of humans. But, what about beyond that?

Science Fiction Portrayal

Science fiction threats have been written about for years. Artificial intelligence has loomed as a threat to humanity ever since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, first published in 1818. AI dooms humanity, on Earth (Terminator and sequels) or in space (Battlestar Galactica). Humans have been ruled by despotic supercomputer, as in the 1970 Colossus: The Forbin Project.

The futurist and humanist Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 science fiction novel 2001: A Space Odyssey became famous through Stanley Kubrick's film version. In Steven Spielberg’s 2001 movie A.I Artificial Intelligence, a highly advanced robotic boy longs to become "real" so that he can regain the love of his human mother. Ex Machina, a 2015 British movie, illustrates just how thin the line between intelligence and artificial intelligence really is.

In his recent sci-fi novel Avogadro Corp. William Hertling describes science fiction that is quickly becoming science fact. In great technical detail, Hertling describes complications that proliferate today and will cause significant problems in the very near future. The book’s sub-title warns: "The Singularity is closer than it appears." (6)

Apple Dominance

In the biblical allegory, Satan tempts Adam and Eve to taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge. That first bite of the apple represents the fall of man. The use of the Apple logo is extremely powerful, symbolizing use of Apple computers to obtain knowledge and enlighten the human race. Steve Jobs was very protective of that symbol, cleverly recognizing that it carried centuries of meaning. (7)

In 2015, Apple became the first US Company with a market value above $700 billion, and is now expected to keep growing beyond $ 1 trillion. The recent movie, Steve Jobs paints a portrait of the man who was obsessed with the possibilities of domination of his company in the digital revolution. There’s a veiled connection between Apple’s ascendancy and the growing threat of AI becoming a danger to the continuation of human existence.

It’s not hard to imagine future Internet hacks, generated by AI, providing false-links, or phantom texts sent out to billions of humans with Pied Piper-like impact. The Intelligence would purport to be issuing the instructions for “the good of humanity”. Hey, that could be the plot for a good science fiction story…

AI in Kids Toys

My colleagues from APF (Association of Professional Futurists) brought up an interesting discussion about the use of AI in kids’ toys. Several companies, including toy-industry leader Mattel, are planning to introduce an assortment of AI-enabled toys this holiday season for kids as young as age three. (8)

When a child asks, “Want to play a game?” Mattel’s Hello Barbie immediately accesses one of 8,000 possible responses to simulate the back-and-forth of a typical children’s conversation. The toy essentially deconstructs everything that makes humans special – and replaces it with sensors, computer servers, software and algorithms. It remembers past conversations. For example, it remembers if a child has brothers or sisters, their names and when they last played together. Parents are happy that their child is engaged and is less intrusive.

The value of interactive AI in toys is that they can adapt to a child's special needs and abilities. They can be infinitely patient and always get the child's attention as the top priority. They develop interaction, leadership, and self-reflection in the child, rather than simply putting them in a passive entertainment mode. The child is prepared and conditioned for the future AI-based world that will require socialization not just with others, but also with machines.

From yesterday’s perspective, the kids are simply engaging in a conversation with a make-believe friend. The insidious underlying problem is that intelligent toys allow steady AI encroachment on a much broader scale, removing impediments and resistance that arise from adults who may or may not recognize the dangers. It brainwashes babies to prefer AI interaction over less cooperative human communication. Who knows more – Mommy and Daddy, or my always-available friend?

Threat to Humanity

Two intrepid entrepreneurs and innovators, Elon Musk and Bill Gates, two of humanity's most credible thinkers, say they are terrified of the same thing: Artificial intelligence. Eminent scientist Stephen Hawking underscores the same warning.

During a talk with students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Elon Musk declared that AI is the most serious threat to the survival of the human race. Musk said, “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful. I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.” (9)

In a September 2015 CNN interview, Musk goes even further, “AI is much more advanced than people realize. It would be fairly obvious if you saw a robot walking around talking and behaving like a person. What's not obvious is a huge server bank in a vault somewhere with an intelligence that's potentially vastly greatly than what a human mind can do. And it's eyes and ears will be everywhere, every camera, every device that's network accessible. Humanity's position on this planet depends on its intelligence. So if our intelligence is exceeded, it's unlikely that we will remain in charge."

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warns, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." (10)

In a February 2015 Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), Bill Gates says, "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern.  I don't understand why some people are not concerned."

Let’s Engage

Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.

  1. Do you consider Artificial Intelligence as providing significant value?
  2. Do you enjoy and appreciate the values that AI provides?
  3. Have you noticed that AI is steadily encroaching in our lives?
  4. Are you uncomfortable with the spread of AI everywhere?
  5. What will you do when your kid think their toy is smarter than you?
  6. Will AI eventually take over? How long?
  7. Can anyone stop the spread of AI? How?
  8. Have you considered that AI would be more effective running the government?
  9. How can AI eventually be stopped? What can stop the advance?

  1. Jim Pinto – Intelligence & Consciousness in the New Age:
  2. Predictions for the State of AI and Robotics in 2025:
  3. Why We Should Think About the Threat of Artificial Intelligence:
  4. Why I Don't Fear Artificial Intelligence:
  5. KURZWEIL: Human-Level AI Is Coming By 2029:
  6. Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears:
  7. Unraveling the tale behind the Apple logo:
  8. Artificial intelligence is moving from the lab to your kid’s playroom:
  9. Artificial intelligence is our biggest existential threat:
  10. AI Has Arrived, That Really Worries the World’s Brightest Minds:

Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA. USA
29 October 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Smartphone Dynamics

                          Cell phone dependency is now called compulsive communicating.
                           Chain dialers call continually to get another fix.  - Spokesman Review
The smartphone has become the fastest-selling gadget in history, the defining technology of the first part of the 21st century. With this product, Apple has become the most valuable company on earth. Latest reports indicate that by 2020 there will be 6.1 billion smartphone users, led by huge growth in new markets. This means that about 70-80 % of the world’s population will be using smartphones in five years. (1)

Multiple Uses

Smartphones are transforming society and enriching lives. Their dominance derives from their small size and wireless connectivity. The processing power of yesterday’s supercomputers is handheld and applied to ordinary human interactions. (2)

Anyone with a current model smartphone can handle almost all of their at-home or work tasks without needing anything else. (3) Usage is spreading everywhere at extraordinary speed.

Smartphones can do countless things  – real-time talk and video, text conversations, Internet browsing, maps and travel directions, traffic warnings, photos and video, tracking health and exercise.

The combination of size and connectivity means that knowledge can be shared in ways that are both professional and personal. Smartphones can recommend career changes; arrange dates online; book appointments; and link customers with available taxis. The variety of applications is growing exponentially.

Unhealthy attachment

Smartphones have penetrated every aspect of daily life. The average American is occupied with a smart phone for several hours every day. 

Nearly 80% of smartphone-owners check messages, news or other services within 15 minutes of being awake. Many people check their phones at dinner, in the bathroom, while driving, at the movies and in bed. About 10% even admit to having checked messages during sex. (4)

  • 84% say they cannot go a single day without their smartphone.
  • 67% check regularly for missed calls, emails, messages and text-alerts. Some check every few minutes.
  • 88% use mobile devices as a second screen, even while watching TV.
  • Almost 50% sleep with their smartphone next to their bed because they want to make sure they don’t miss any calls or alerts.

Reclaiming Live Conversation

MIT technology professor and media scholar Sherry Turkle has been studying digital culture for thirty years. In her new book, Reclaiming Conversation, she investigates the troubling consequences of smartphone addiction. (5)

Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and the workplace, Sherry Turkle maintains that conversation is the cornerstone for social life. It builds empathy, friendship, love, learning, and productivity. It’s the most human – and humanizing – thing that people do. But today, the absence of live conversations is noticeable everywhere. The capacity for empathy and relationship suffers.

People don’t have to look, talk or listen – they escape into their smartphone. This undermines relationships, creativity, and productivity. The dinner table falls silent as people “check” their phones. Parents compete with phones for their kids’ attention. It’s increasingly difficult to keep conversations going when only a few people are looking up from their phones. 

In another book, “Alone Together”, Sherry Turkle explores what people are looking for in a world of electronic companions and social networking tools. She explores the power of new tools and toys to dramatically alter social lives, insisting that the next generation must chart the path between isolation and connectivity. (6)

Driving Dangers

Since the year 2000, because of the popularity of smartphones that allow people to communicate faster and easier, texting has become a social norm.  Today, texting while driving is considered to be the cause of life-threatening accidents due to driver distraction. It is involved in about 28% of all car accidents in the US and this is now the top cause of death among teenagers. (7)

According to a report from the National Safety Council, there are about 1.6 million crashes in the US every year involving cell phone use, which causes 500,000 injuries and 6,000 fatalities. In many places texting while driving has become illegal.

Facebook Addiction

Facebook is widely used across the world, with a billion users. For millions, it has become a large part of their life and they spend a lot of time engaging in activities such as updating statuses, posting photos, inserting comments and ‘liking’ others’ posts. With the availability of smartphones anywhere, the number and frequency of posts has increased dramatically. Opinions are typically shared online, typically only with “followers” who agree, which avoids real conflicts and solutions.  (8)

Everywhere, the absence of live conversations is noticeable. Some people spend hours on Facebook every day, so that it starts interfering with their lives and has become detrimental to daily functioning at home, work or school.

This topic has generated discussions among psychologists, journalists, and bloggers. Researchers have coined the term "Facebook addiction" to describe people with an unhealthy desire to spend hours checking social networking sites. A new study found that the brains of people who report compulsive urges to use social networking sites show some brain patterns similar to those found in drug addicts. (9)


Several studies suggest that Facebook and other social networking sites have a profound impact on people. It can hurt a person’s body image, allow people to obsess over failed relationships and even lead some people to fall into depression. Many feel left out after seeing pictures of friends at parties, or having dinner together. It’s been found that specific patterns of Internet use can generate a greater propensity to experience symptoms of depression. (10)

Many people become isolated, intimidated, disconnected and constantly distracted. Desperately seeking emotional stimulation, they switch quickly between websites, which reflects a decreased ability to experience emotions. Similarly, excessive emailing and chatting may signify a relative lack of strong face-to-face relationships. Lonely people strive to maintain contact either with faraway friends or people just met online.

People who are habitually looking at smartphones are usually lonely. There may be other family members around, but they tend not to engage. Even when talking with friends online, there is a strange kind of loneliness that arises out of peer pressure, the loss of ability to think differently. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “alone in the crowd”.


A significant positive relationship has been found between narcissism and addiction to smartphones. A key indication of this is excessive interest or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance, and an obsession with taking selfies and posting them on social media.

Narcissistic people think that every single thing that arrives on their smartphone is somehow connected to them. It’s almost as if they start to become incapable of processing someone else’s life because they are so preoccupied with their own. They resort more and more to Facebook, text and email communications because that allows them to be the best version of themselves, which is very appealing. (11)

Health Problems

Neck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of a head, about 10 to 12 pounds. When looking down at a screen at a 60-degree angle, about 60 lbs. (27 kg) of pressure is put on the cervical spine – the area right above the shoulders.

As smartphones and handheld tablets are becoming more common, increasingly people are being diagnosed with occipital neuralgia. Eventually, the pressure does damage to the nerves in the back of the neck. This can end up with shooting pain in the scalp and permanent damage that may only be undone through surgery.

Besides muscle pain, and ailment termed text-neck can cause a host of other health issues. Sitting in a slumped position restricts the ability of lungs to expand, impairing lung capacity. Inhaling less oxygen means the heart needs to pump harder to distribute more oxygen-carrying blood through the body. (12)

Switch it off!

It’s important to manage your smartphone use. (13) Everyone needs to be reminded: Technology has a power-off button. The wisest use it regularly. (14) Here are 5 reasons why it helps to switch off:

  1. Removes unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy, and loneliness. 
  2. Combats the fear of missing out. 
  3. Peace and solitude are easier to find.
  4. Life is still about flesh, blood, and eye contact. 
  5. Life, at its best, is happening right in front of you. 

Let’s Engage

Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.

  1. Do you check texts and emails all the time? How many times a day?
  2. Do you ever switch your phone off? At night? While on holiday?
  3. Do you get into a panic when you forget to bring your phone?
  4. Are you addicted to constant smartphone viewing?
  5. Do you check your phone while in company? Sneak a peek?
  6. When conversations don’t interest you, do you look at your phone?
  7. Do you post on Facebook? How many times do you post or look, per week?
  8. Do you consider yourself lonely? Are you an introvert?
  9. Do you often take selfies? What do you do with them? Do you post them on Facebook?
  10. Do you have any neck strain, or shoulder problems? 
  11. Would you like to switch off your phone? When can/will you do that? 

  1. Smart Phones Spreading Faster than Any Technology in History:
  2. Usage and Attitudes Toward Smartphones:
  3. In Two Years a Smartphone Could Be Your Only Computer:
  4. Economist – Planet of the phones:
  5. Sherry Turkle book - Reclaiming Conversation:
  6. Sherry Turkle book - Alone Together:
  7. Cellphone use causes over 1 in 4 car accidents:
  8. Facebook Addiction - New Psychological Scale:
  9. What Facebook Addiction Looks Like in the Brain:
  10. What Internet Habits Say about Mental Health:
  11. What does smartphone addiction actually looks like:
  12. Smartphones causing permanent health problems in chronic users:
  13. Addicted to Your Smartphone? Here's What to Do:
  14. Reasons to Unplug and Find Space:
Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA. USA
8 October 2015