A Few Items for Your Consideration

Here are a few glimpses of the future ranging from the near and plausible, to the distant and uncertain. In another world–one, I suppose, in which I get paid to write these posts–I’d write more about each. In this world, I simply pass them along for your consideration.

Google Glass App Reads Your Emotions

“A new Glassware App for Google Glass will uncover a person’s emotion, age range and gender just by facial recognition technology ….

Facial recognition has always been seen with nervousness, as people tend to prefer privacy over the ability to see a stranger’s age or gender. But these two apps prove sometimes letting a robot know you’re sad can help for a better relationship between fellow humans. Letting the robot lead has proven to increase human productivity and better the ebb and flow of a work space, a partnership, any situation dealing with human communication.

The SHORE app is currently not available for download, but you can try US+ now. May the robots guide us to a more humane future.”

GM Cars to Monitor Drivers

“General Motors, the largest US auto manufacturer by sales, is preparing to launch the world’s first mass-produced cars with eye- and head-tracking technology that can tell whether drivers are distracted, according to people with knowledge of the plans ….

The company is investing in technology that will be able to tell how hard a driver is thinking by monitoring the dilation of the pupils, and combines facial information with sensors for vital signs such as blood alcohol levels and heart rate.”

Electrical Brain Stimulation

“Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), which passes small electrical currents directly on to the scalp, stimulates the nerve cells in the brain (neurons). It’s non-invasive, extremely mild and the US military even uses TDCS in an attempt to improve the performance of its drone pilots.

The idea is that it makes the neurons more likely to fire and preliminary research suggests electrical simulation can improve attention as well as have a positive impact on people with cognitive impairments and depression ….

And more worryingly for him, people are also increasingly making brain stimulation kits themselves. This easily ‘puts the technology in the realms of clever teenagers,’ adds Dr Davis.

An active forum on reddit is devoted to the technology, and people there have complained of ‘burning to the scalp’. Another user wrote that they ‘seemed to be getting angry frequently’ after using TDCS.”

Preparing for Superintelligent AI

“Bostrom takes a cautious view of the timing but believes that, once made, human-level AI is likely to lead to a far higher level of ‘superintelligence’ faster than most experts expect – and that its impact is likely either to be very good or very bad for humanity.

The book enters more original territory when discussing the emergence of superintelligence. The sci-fi scenario of intelligent machines taking over the world could become a reality very soon after their powers surpass the human brain, Bostrom argues. Machines could improve their own capabilities far faster than human computer scientists.”

We’ve got some thinking to do, folks, careful, patient thinking. Happily, we don’t have to do that thinking alone and in isolation. Here is Evan Selinger helping us think clearly about our digital tools with his usual, thoughtful analysis: “Why Your Devices Shouldn’t Do the Work of Being You.”

Here, too, is a critical appraisal of the religiously intoned hopes of the cult of the Singularity.

Finally, Nick Carr invites us to cautiously consider the potential long-term consequences of the recently unveiled Apple Watch since “never before have we had a tool that promises to be so intimate a companion and so diligent a monitor as the Apple Watch.”

To Think, or Not to Think

From my present vantage point, if and when my dissertation gets written, these two passages will very likely serve as epigraphs.

Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition:

“What I propose in the following is a reconsideration of the human condition from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears. This, obviously, is a matter of thought, and thoughtlessness–the heedless recklessness of hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty–seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time. What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.”

Alfred North Whitehead in An Introduction to Mathematics:

“It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.”

Discuss, particularly in light of our tendency to outsource or offload our intellectual, moral, and emotional labor to our devices.