I have been busy tweaking and working out the kinks in how to actually publish my books for editing here under the Books tab. I think I am very close to having a workable process. All I need now is for input from you out there the pre-reader/editors.
Remember, my plan is that this will not take a great deal of time out of your week. I am spreading this out by publishing only a couple of chapters a week. At the back end, I’m making some final edits, but will also be working hard to incorporate your inputs as we go.
I’ll have more work when it comes to Book Two which I split from the original main book. I am still not settled on the title and I’ll get to working that out an make suggestions for you to provide input on.
Editing and publishing a book on a WordPress website—what else is there to do during a pandemic?
I trek on my path into the future; technology engulfs me and wraps around every aspect of my life; information is rampant and inundating. It is fun, but, have I been seduced and become addicted—numbed? Many problems plaguing humanity have been solved, or are being solved, but have other emerged? And then I wonder, do I understand this future life I now live? Am I in control and, am I actually more human? How does technology make me more or less human? How free am I? How can I prepare myself for the future and what can I expect?
As a child, I was a dreamer. Not only at night, I was a day dreamer. In my own world I dreamt of the future, a future where all humanity’s problems would be solved with technology—a sort of salvation by technology. Have you dreamed about or imagined what your future might be like?
I dreamt of space flight, robots, flying cars, the list was long. I let my imagination wander, fuelled by all the futurists writing books, movies and television shows I watched. The future was being painted with promises—a paradise of promises.
Eventually I began waking up. I can remember one particular morning I woke up and shouted in my mind, “This is the future! This is the time when so many of the promises I have been hearing for decades are supposed to be coming true.” Then I thought, “If this is the future I have been waiting for, where is it?” And finally I realized, “This is not the future I had been promised, this is not the future I have been expecting.” I thought more about how the future I am expecting just never seems to arrive. Then I asked myself, “So what does arrive?” I have discovered that the future never arrives, at least not as expected and it always brings baggage.
Welcome to the future—the paradise of promises. Are we living in a paradise? Have promises you heard in the past come true? Are things really better, or are they just different? Have problems of humanity been solved? Have we solved some problems and created others?
Awed and amazed by the technologies around us we slip along the road of time. Look through your numbness. Do you find feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious and frustrated? Has the promise that we would have a lot leisure time as our machines would do all our work, come true? This promise is still alive and kicking, making the rounds as if it is a new concept. The opposite seems the reality.
Where are we now and to where are we sailing into the future on this technological tall ship? On deck the warm breezes and the blue seas are comforting until you go off course, or they suddenly rage. The sounds of a stream are calming and relaxing until the water floods. A forest can be quiet and inspiring, until you no longer know where you are. Watch your step. Observe carefully all around you, yet keep your eyes on the path.
Welcome to the start of a journey—a safari. To safari is to explore, to observe and experience. We are going to learn how to carefully look around, actually see what is happening and ask important questions. You will begin to think deeply and clearly about ways you are impacted by this world of technology and what the future could look like.
Technologies bring us many wonderful solutions to problems and give us some amazing capabilities. Yet, if we peek under the blankets, we find bedbugs hiding in the satin sheets. We want to explore what these bugs are and discover ways to better manage change and the technologies that touch our lives.
Consider the spell checker on your computer. How good are your spelling skills these days? Does being able to spell even matter anymore? Can we learn to see where and how certain technologies, social media for example, are eroding and even robbing us of our humanness and humanity? Who are your real ‘Friends’?
More serious is, how much are we tracked and surveilled? How safe is your personal information? How is your personal information and attention monetized by enormous powerful corporations? Can algorithms and corporations manipulate us? Is the Internet really knowledge at your fingertips?
Experts ask, “What are we gaining, what are we losing and what are we leaving behind?” Are we leaving behind aspects of our humanness and humanity? How does a particular technology make you more or less human? Ask yourself, “Do I really need it, and is this how I want my life to be?” Do you want to change the way a particular technology affects your life and help you to be more human?” Stop and consider some technologies, like E-mail or smartphones, and ask these same questions.
When you eat food that you purchase and possibly cook, you are impacted by many technologies. I argue that the very clothes on your back are technologies. What about language? That one is controversial. From a club to the most advanced of computer technologies, we need to learn how we can be more human in an often dehumanizing world of technology.
Our journey will be difficult work and will require time and effort. The technological world we have created, or allowed to be created, it extremely complex and may be growing out of control. The overwhelming, anxious, even depressing feelings you experience set you off balance, whether you realize it or not. You are not meant to be stuck in anxiety and imbalance. This is dehumanizing. Therefore, it is extremely important to learn how to understand this world of technology and how to be more human.
Please, do not just passively read this book. Engage with it and stop to think deeply about the questions. There’s no rush to finish reading. Talk to other people about the issues and formulate your own conclusions.
We are enchanted, seduced and captivated by technology, swept away in a stream of amazement that becomes an overwhelming torrent of burden. Surrounded by devices that vie for attention, they ask that you give them more of your time.
A smartphone, and other devices, are fascinating, and fun. Does the Internet seem like the window to all human knowledge, connecting us all together in one gigantic community? Look how you are in awe of the capabilities technologies bring into your life. See that you must be aware of and consider the ways technologies change and impact your life. Ask yourself if you are giving up the reins of your humanness and humanity by letting technologies takeover your life? Have you forgotten how to simply relax, think and imagine—letting your mind and spirit wander?
Will technological advancement slow down someday? Is there a ceiling to some aspects of technology, such as the speed of computer processors? What other inhibitors could arise to slow things down? Are you aware of movements toward a more organic lifestyle similar to the movement to organic foods? Would you join such a movement? Can we humans influence and alter the trajectory of technological change? Or will unbridled and unharnessed smart machines bring some unforeseen negative developments, even catastrophic results to humans?
We need to learn to be more intentional with our use of technology and carefully appropriate technology into our lives. To learn how we can redeem and reclaim that which we may have lost, retain and maintain what we have today, and protect our humanness and humanity in the future by being human beings and living in a world of technology.
The last hundred or more years have brought amazing technological change, even wonderful advancements. The past fifty years will pale in comparison to what is on the horizon of the future. Can we discover reasons for having hope for humanity? As long as there is time and a place to exist, the future is always coming. Keep in mind though, The Future Never Arrives… at least not as expected and it always brings baggage.
Expeditions, including safaris, all begin with a Basecamp. The first section of this book, Orientation, contains more about me (your guide) and the journey. You will also gain an overview of some meanings. For example, what do I mean by the term ‘technology’? Your experiences with this book will be more valuable if we are on the same page with these concepts. In the second section, Safari, I will guide you along a short safari. This will lead you to your own safaris as you continue on into the future of your life. The third section, Debrief, is a return to Basecamp for deeper discussions about many important issues involving the impacts of technologies on your life. This book does not propose solutions, although you will definitely come to some conclusions as to what you might do to take action in your own life.
While this book discusses many issues involving technology, the important primary focus to always consider is about being a human being. How can technology help you in being more human? When does technology dehumanize you? How can your life be improved through a better understanding of, and management of, the technologies in your life?
How do technology corporation control and manipulate your life? Can you take back control of your life? How can you be prepared for the future?
We are all hurling as a rocket into the future. Are you in control? Do you have a grasp of what to expect? When the unexpected comes along, what are the options? Can you unpack the baggage? Always remember, The Future Never Arrives—at least not as expected, and it always brings baggage. Be prepared!
The Future Never Arrives …At least not as expected and it always brings baggage
Being human better beings & living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.
Being human better beings & living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.
“Darwin among the Machines” is the name of an article published in The Press newspaper on 13 June 1863 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Written by Samuel Butler, it warned of the possibility that machines were a kind of “mechanical life” undergoing constant evolution, and that eventually machines might supplant humans as the dominant species:
We refer to the question: What sort of creature man’s next successor in the supremacy of the earth is likely to be. We have often heard this debated; but it appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race. In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race.
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.
Butler developed this and subsequent articles into The Book of the Machines, three chapters of Erewhon, published anonymously in 1872.
“There is no security”—to quote his own words—“against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness, in the fact of machines possessing little consciousness now. A mollusc has not much consciousness. Reflect upon the extraordinary advance which machines have made during the last few hundred years, and note how slowly the animal and vegetable kingdoms are advancing. The more highly organized machines are creatures not so much of yesterday, as of the last five minutes, so to speak, in comparison with past time.
— More of this article can be found at the end of this book or on Wikipedia.
Is this our future? What might be unexpected in such a world? What might be the baggage?
We are about to talk about change. Change in what it means to be human. Change that results from technology that can seem rampant and out of control in nearly every aspect of our lives. Change which requires us to examine our humanness and humanity. While technology is usually involved, it is not always the main cause. Wars and natural disasters come to mind. In both books we shall discuss change.
I have been working on the books for some years. It is the constant editing that has held me up from publishing. The purpose for writing the books has been to mobilize us all to explore and examine our lives in this rapidly changing world of technology and what it means for us to be human beings in the midst of all this technology.
I had gone from being an eager proponent of technology to being one who realized that we need to question technology and the technology companies — just as we expect our professional media outlets to question our governments for us. If we don’t, they have carte blanche to do as they wish, and that I fear, may be the state we are in. They can have the ability to track, trace, surveil, steal our private data and information, and to basically peer into every corner and aspect of our lives — stripping away our privacy, and controlling and manipulating our lives. That is only the beginning!
While I was editing my books of warnings, suddenly the world changed overnight. I awoke to discover a threat that was beginning to drench the world like a tsunami. A new virus was emerging in China and there seemed to be quite a fuss about it. At first, I wondered exactly what all the fuss was about. In following days and weeks I witnessed and experienced a shuttering of the entire world. Shuttering was a new word to me, at least I had never paid any attention to it before. The real world was closing up.
They were calling it a pandemic. I went into research mode to get familiar with that which was dominating the news and the world at an ever growing pace. The Coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 is a new virus with stealth abilities. What do you know, a stealth virus for a super technological age and a stealth Technojungle! What’s more, the primary up front weapon in this new combat is not tech related at all, it is to stay home and self-isolate, or self-quarantine if you may be a carrier. You can only go out for a short walk or to attempt to obtain suddenly hard to get necessities.
Social distancing, or physical distancing, has become the most common buzzword in our daily vocabulary. We have to keep two meters away from anyone not in our household.
Frontline workers on the battlefield include medical staff and those who provide the necessities of life, such as groceries. To these people a 7 o’clock nightly clamour rings out across the city in an untechnological banging of pots and pans, along with other noise making utensils, whistles and human hollers. It’s much like New Years Eve every evening.
People everywhere are wearing face masks which have left Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in short supply to frontline medical workers. Suddenly everyone is desperate for, and knows what is, an N95 respirator or face mask. Hoarders buy up supplies of necessities, including PPEs, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, etc.… and toilet paper. What! Toilet paper? Everything is difficult to obtain when out for our once-a-week one store only shopping trip. When you find a necessity, it’s buy all you can, if there are no restrictions in place. Stores have senior’s hours and everybody must line up two meters apart; only a few people are allowed in a store at a time.
It was a panic!
So you probably get a bit of the picture and you probably have lived through this pandemic anyway. But what has the pandemic got to do with these books?
All of a sudden the world finds that most of the technologies discussed in this book have become lifelines to the outside world. Our devices keep us informed and connected to our friends and relatives.
When I set out years ago, I was endeavouring to have readers become more aware the impacts of technology on being human beings. To be aware of the tracking, tracing, surveillance, theft of their private data and information, and the lack of privacy in their lives, along with other potential dangers of living in a technology dominated world. The pandemic shifted things as I never expected. How can I argue that we should slow down and understand how these technologies that pervade our lives are affecting us in being human beings when the technologies have become ever more important and are demonstrating themselves to be indispensable during the pandemic?
In some ways I feel we have been swept away. Away in some convenient twist of our arms. Away to leap into living deeper in this technological world. Away giving even more power to those who control technologies. Away into needing technology to assist us through difficult times, if not desperate times. There are definitely positives to technology assisting us. But there are also downsides. Certainly the issues I focus on in these books are even more critical and we should still take care when we can.
I am amazed at how some musicians are able to use everything from a built in webcam on their computer, to a home audio studio to collaborate with others to make virtual recordings. In any recording setting, getting sound balance and other aspects of performing music right are difficult and require expertise. I imagine doing it with remote connections must be extremely difficult. I’ve seen choirs performing with each singer in a separate box on my screen as they sing from their home, and the sound is excellent. There are concerts done with performers all over the world. The logistics are baffling to me. Yet it is done and it is in so many way humanizing as we feel connected. Without the curtain of this pandemic, would we feel so connected by these technologies? It is far less engaging and humanizing than being there live. Still, the pandemic makes it seem so wonderful.
I have two people working from home and one is also in university. They have meetings online and collaborate on projects everyday. They work in a variety of places in the house, sometimes even in bed, or while eating a meal. When break time comes they go for a run or indulge in weightlifting in the driveway gym set up everyday. My wife does webinars and shops online, jumping from one website to another just as she used to go from store to store as a busy bee to flowers. I know, I am the driver and the sampler. She shops, I sample. You must understand, my wife is what I would call a professional shopper having grown up in a general store. She loves to hop from store to store. Now she does it online, but it is a struggle because she is developing tech-savvy skills and she often ends up just phoning. Her visits to a real store often amount to nerve wracking escapades with a possible meltdown on the way home.
One point I should make is that it is difficult to know what is accurate information. Rumours spread along with disinformation. Everybody has the capability of giving advice that spreads online like wildfire, even the experts change their minds about things like wearing a face mask. More than ever it is difficult to determine what is true and accurate, as even the mainstream can be seem questionable.
In this surreal dreamlike new pandemic world, the economy has been allowed to collapse as businesses close. After many long weeks of government handouts and bailouts, there is talk of reopening. Many people are becoming mentally stressed. Domestic violence is on the rise. Summer is on the way. Businesses are on the verge of dying. But it seems to me this pandemic has benefited the technology companies. Technology comes out ahead as if by some design.
We are being told that this is the new normal, at least until well after a vaccine has been developed. That we should expect a second and even a third wave of the virus. I wonder though if this is a new normal for living even more online and less face-to-face. Will the fear of being close to each other even disappear someday? Will we simply replace our human personal encounters with living virtually in our technobubbles where we are safe from infection? Will we face unimaginable virtual infections? Will people revolt over the disruption, control and manipulation of their lives? What does all this mean for our humanness and humanity?
I’m watching closely because this is like a world war, and world wars change the world and the people. Our enemy is invisible and cunning. Knowing a pandemic can happen at any time may lead us to cautious living and deeper reliance on and acceptance of more technology, and even more powerful technology corporations running our lives.
Experts tell us that nothing like this pandemic has happened since World War II. That war ushered in the Computer Age, the Nuclear Age, the Space Age, and spawned a plethora of other technologies like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which most of us carry around in our purses and wallets.
Hold on! It seems the COVID confinement has cause stresses. People are exhibiting fatigue over socializing online. They venture out against the guidelines of experts. As Summer approaches, restrictions are being lifted to allow people some freedom, but mostly to get economies revived somewhat.
An African American black man was killed by a police officer, as the world watched, igniting racial tensions around the world buried for decades. The tensions echoed around the world with violent protests ignoring the pandemic altogether and causing further disruption and domination of the daily news. The world is obviously on edge.
There is a future, but for most people it is an unexpected one with changes that pale considerably to anything seen before. We are watching, experiencing, and living it as it unfolds and we can’t sleep through it, we must be awake and aware.
I hope this book can help you to understand how your humanness and humanity are impacted by technology and even the pandemic. We do need to proceed with awareness and caution. The future depends on us being human beings and living in a world of technology.
I wish to deeply thank Dr. Rev. Ed Hird for reading my blog and remarking that I, “…seem to have an ambivalence toward technology.” He got me writing more about my love/hate relationship with technology exploring what that really meant to me.
When Ed Hird suggested I pursue the writing of this book, I had no idea of how to go about this sort of project. I had done some journalism and an extensive background in printing and publishing, however, a book was another matter. I was having fun though writing my blog and felt this project could allow me to blend my writing, photography and graphics backgrounds and interests.
For months I dictated thoughts into a recording app on my phone and then transcribed material which I then expanded on in various writings. I explored my past experiences and observations and opened my eyes and ears to what was happening around me everyday. I began to organize my writings into what seemed orderly for the book.
The book grew and grew. Soon I was juggling an unwieldily amount of material. I was overwhelmed.I separated out what I felt was not necessary and decided to somewhat start over.
Life in this technological world gets busy. Finding time to write a book can be difficult. I found I was procrastinating and the book was not moving along. I decided to follow advice I had heard about writing. Write everyday at the the same time in the same place and if nothing comes to mind, just write anyway. I decided to write for one hour a day. I found that the book chapters were accumulating with an hours worth of typed words. I could write a chapter and edit it the next day. This became my process and motto—write a book in an hour a day.
I was not about to write this book by pen and paper, so the computer became an important tool. I was already using a journaling application called MacJournal to write entries for my blog. However, a book would need something different. I had acquired some software cheaply in a bundle, so I already knew about the writing application Scrivener. I decided to give it a whirl. I wanted to also do the layout, but, I had no software for this enormous task and was not willing to shell out outrageous funds to upgrade the outdated software I used to use, nor move to the current industry standard which required a costly rental scheme.
Along the journey of working on the book, I got involved in a small publishing venture which allowed me get familiar with some available graphics and publishing software. While I did find some graphics applications that were quite capable, and I found a page layout program for the project I was involved with, there seemed to be nothing for a larger project.
A couple of the graphics applications I ended up using were not only quite powerful, the company was producing both desktop and iPad versions that were winning awards. In addition, they were promising a publishing program that would complete a triad of applications which would compete with the finest and most powerful professional software.
This book was written in Scrivener. The graphics and page layout was handled using Affinity Photo,Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher. The Affinity products have all been developed as I wrote the book. As I was nearing the time to begin thinking about laying the book out,Affinity Publisher for desktop went into open beta. I had signed up to be a beta tester, so I figured a good way to learn the software and provide beta feedback would be to start on the book.
I won’t say it was easy, but a late night got me several pages and a good design. Despite being and early beta version, Affinity Publisher was remarkably powerful, but not without a few beta quirks. It did have a wonderful feature that was perfect for stylizing the sidebars I had written. I was also able to produce a pull quote design that I had in mind. This all came together in several hours.
It was easy to select fonts. I wanted to use the font I first favoured while learning printing back in the 1970s. Garamond is a great font for body copy created by engraver Claude Garamond in the mid-1500s. Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith had invented the first printing press using movable type in 1439, so Garamond dates back to early days of original letterpress printing soon after the printing press was developed. It is warm, friendly, and reflects human handcrafted creativity.
I wanted a non serif (san serif) font for headings, pull quotes and sidebars. In recent years I came across Avenir. I liked it as an alternative to the overused Helvetica and Futura, which I liked to use in my early days of typesetting. It was also a good alternative for Fruitiger, which I had used a couple of decades ago. It turns out that Avenir was developed by Adrian Frutiger the same person who developed the font Frutiger. Avenir is a humanist font which harkens back to first Roman typefaces created by Venetian printers. I was certainly delighted realized that the word Avenir is French for Future.
I would also like to thank a number of other people who did some early proof reading which helped me in improving my writing and in shaping the book.
It seems like a blur of over a week and nearly two weeks of wrestling with issues on my computer. I just figured I had too many tabs open in Safari, the web browser on my MacBook Pro. It was getting very slow and not running smoothly. I also began to suspected that I did not have enough space left on my hard drive. Sure enough, by the time a got to the point of deciding to sort all this out, I did see a message that there was no more hard drive space.
My MacBook Pro has a 250 GB hard drive. The formatting of a drive uses a small amount of space. The operating system (OS) uses a portion as a scratch disk to swap data in RAM. It takes data in RAM that is not currently being accessed and writes it to the hard drive. If an application is running and has a document open, when the system determines that other tasks are more important and being accessed, it will transfer the portion of RAM memory to disk and that could include the application and document. It can then be made active in RAM memory again much faster than relaunching the application and reopening document.
Thus began a long journey beginning with closing some tabs in Safari and trashing some files. I gained a small amount of space. Next, I wanted to run a utility to clean caches and do other maintenance. The program required updating to Yosemite Cache Cleaner; a new application for the new OS. Once I competed that I let it run. Each task it performed took ages to complete, even when I let it run over night. I ran other programs also, such as Disk Tools Pro, Dr. Web, Onyx, Cocktail, iBoostUp and, of course, the Apple Disk Utilities that comes with the OS. Each of those took ages and most ran over night. I managed to gain around 55 GBs of space on my hard drive, mostly from cleaning out all the caches. I could gain more by deleting a year of photos that I have backed up. The main virus checker I used was ClamXav an open source package that took over 24 hours to scan my drive of over 1.4 million files. An application may look like a single item on your computer, however, what you see is a wrapper for many smaller files that comprise the actual application. This may include other smaller applications and partially accounts for such a high number of files that need to be scanned.
A cache is a folder containing data that is used frequently. The best example is a browser cache. A web browser downloads items to display a webpage, such as images and keeps them in a cache so the webpage can load again much quicker. There are other caches that the OS uses and all of these should be clean up once in a while.
I realized that the computer going to sleep probably didn’t help, so I disabled all the Energy Saving settings and the screen saver. I couldn’t do very much as each these tools was working and I didn’t want to cause them to slow down by using up the computer’s resources. I used the Activity Monitor to make sure nothing was interfering, to look for unwanted software processes and to see what activities might be hogging the system. As the days passed, I was postponing many other chores, tasks, reminders and todos. I would be in for a long stretch of catch-up once I was through this mess.
To complicate whole process I was going through, there were problems with my computer not waking up. The result was that many times I had to do a forced shutdown and restart the computer. This would mean restarting whatever utility I had been running and the long process that had been interrupted. These were certainly irksome set-backs that frustrated me even more. Forcing a shutdown without letting the system close properly was probably adding some issues.
I eventually checked on the Apple website and learned how to reset the System Management Controller (SMC) and the Non-volitile Random Access Memory (NVRAM). I used to reset this years ago, however, it was known as Parameter RAM (PRAM). This sort of fixed the not waking-up problem for a while, but it returned, probably because I had not yet caught all the culprits yet.
Finally, I noticed that there were a few files that were showing up as suspicious. However, they looked legitimate, so I wasn’t sure. I did a search on the name Genieo and found a legitimate Israeli company that produces a software package to make ‘A Newspaper Styled Start Page For Mac’ (there is also a Windows version). It gathers information, sends out information—such as to Google—and installs software without the user’s approval. This has caused the software to become labeled as unwanted. Apparently, one aspect of the intrusion into a person’s computer has been to masquerade as an update to Adobe Flash Player. When I read that, it clicked in my mind that I had run more updaters recently than ever before and had wondered why.
I never consciously opted to install any of Genieo’s software, or any associated or similar software, and yet it managed to find it’s way into my system, likely by tricking me, like a trojan horse virus. The sorts of behaviour employed has caused this software to graduate from the label of unwanted to malware/adware and finally to virus. It is now being included in the lists used by virus checkers. The problem is that the company was sold for $34 million and some components of software now have different names.
I finally have my computer operating properly after many hours of frustration. However, I did it for free and I now have some new insights. Apple have on their website some extensive instructions on how to manually remove the Genieo software along with other similar software and I have now followed each step, just to be sure.
As I reflect back over this experience, I have a couple of conclusions and some questions. First, this seems to be a new reality for Macintosh computers. In over 25 years of using these computers, I have never had a virus. I was a heavy Bulletin Board System (BBS) user and operator, downloading freely anything I was interested in. Later, the Internet came along and I continued the activity of downloading. I have always loaded up my computer with downloads and often, more so in the past, run out of hard drive space. I have never spent any money for repairs and have owned many used computers I was given or bought second-hand.
I have run many utilities in the past and, in the ‘old days’ prior to the Mac OS becoming Unix-based, I was able to debug the system myself, discovering conflicts and incompatibilities. I rely a bit more on Internet searches for solving problems these days and some of my adventures have taken me down into the Unix foundations.
For years, the Mac OS has included protection software called Gatekeeper that runs completely hidden. (I seem to remember a commercial or shareware package that existed years ago called Gatekeeper. Perhaps this is the same or similar software.) Apple operates an App Store to allow developers to distribute software. The software is checked for issues. Some developers distribute software directly or by other means. GateKeeper allows a developer to obtain a unique Developer ID to sign their software with. If the software is distributed by someone who has tampered with the software and does not have the ID, GateKeeper will block it and give the computer user a pop-up notification. Many Apple applications in OS X are quarantine-aware and can catch files that are malicious and malware. The OS checks with a deny list of known files and software and then pops up a message to notify the user. All this is excellent, however as I mentioned, the user is usually notified and can choose to allow the software to install and run. In addition, being Unix-based, the OS runs maintenance scripts daily, monthly and yearly to help keep things in order.
Second, to have a software package go from legitimate to malware to virus seems to raise some difficult questions. Was it a case of human greed entering to cause the distribution of software to become invasive in nature? How does software slip from user install to sneaking in without permission or by masquerading like trojan horse viruses do? That software would be able to, once installed, actually accomplish tasks without the user having control seems very malicious. Then to eventually produce software that actually fools a user into thinking they are installing one software update and then having something totally different and unwanted installed, is unethical and even criminal.
This is only one example. How many others are out there? How does this sort of software moral decay impact other technologies? In other words, what other software, what other technologies can have a similar decay of having a legitimate beginning and then become rogue? This is yet another aspect of technological change in the Technojungle that we truly need to have some careful thought—Beware of malware!
“The numbing affect that technology has on us. Kind of lulling us into a false sense of security.”
The above came from a publisher friend in a reply to one of my E-mails. Not long after I received it, I awoke one morning with these two sentences at the front of my mind and the word ‘lull’ leaping out and rolling around in my thoughts as if a revelation.
To be lulled is to be calmed and soothed to sleep; to give or lead to feel a false sense of safety; cause to be less alert, aware, or watchful; to cause (someone) to feel safe and relaxed instead of careful and alert; to cause to relax vigilance <were lulled into a false sense of security>.
This is a time when people can become almost drunk with technology. Our gadgets can soothe and entice us. Go to a coffee shop, dentist or doctor’s office, or any place where people gather and where they once may have read a magazine or entered into conversation with each other, you will find so many peering into their gadgets, immersed and captivated.
I go from room to room in my house and carry with me my smartphone, just in case I get a call. This just happened. I was out of the room for only a minute and the phone rang. I had to run to catch it. When I first heard of online banking, I said to myself, “I will never do that, I know how unsafe the Internet is.” I must confess, I have been lulled into online banking.
Even when we know better, we can easily be lulled in. When it comes to technology, we need to be vigilant and carefully intentional in how we allow it into our life. If we are not, we risk being consumed by the expansion of technology in our society that competes for our attention.
For many people, technology is security in a world of complexities that can bring anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. In these times of constant rapid change and dangers of terrorism, we feel the need to be informed and connected to each other. Yet technology works both ways—good and bad. The more technology we have to make us feel secure, the more technology we need to maintain that security. Consider the technologies use in warfare. They don’t end war or even make it better, so often they make it worse. Gunpowder was going to end war. Even with very sophisticated technologies, errors occur that kill innocent people.
We need to keep in mind that as we nestle with our comforting and ever growing technologies, older technologies sneak up on us and can deliver us a surprise. The war on terrorism proves this. While consumed fighting the high-tech side, someone walks in with an old fashioned bomb.
Most corporations, including financial institutions, fight constant attacks from cyber criminals who breach the security systems of their computers in what can only be described as common and inevitable cyber terrorism. If only we knew what truly goes on with cyber terrorism daily behind the scenes of our lives, we would lose any confidence we have in the systems of our society. There is an on-going escalation of technology to provide security in the flimsy online world we have come to rely on.
What goes hand in hand with security is privacy. It seems a safer world where everything is monitored by cameras. Even where cameras are not yet permanently mounted, everyone has one in their phone and someone is always perfectly willing to capture an event. With facial recognition software, evil doers can be picked out of a crowd. This all sounds like it brings a safer more secure world, yet, we give up our privacy. This seems to be part of an axiom these days. That technology feeds us security which we pay for with our privacy. Sometimes we lose both our security and privacy at the same time.
The smartphone seems to have become the security blanket for many people. While allowing us to connect with each other at will, it also reveals where we are. All cellphones constantly tell the service provider where they are. Want to make sure you can track everyone, make sure everyone has a cell phone. How do you make sure everyone has a cell phone, make smartphones that can do things that people can’t do without. Interestingly, someone was just telling me of a trend back to regular cellphones. Dumbphones?
Everything we do involving the Internet leaves a trail. Each one of us is leaving our footprints on computer servers all over the world to be tracked and followed by those who might seek us, such as advertisers. One might say they don’t care about advertisers, or anyone else following them, however, if advertising did not work to influence our lives, companies would not spend trillions of dollars on it.
People seem all to willing to post much of their life on social media, thereby surrendering, piece by piece, their privacy and security—who they are. You are your privacy and security; it is a huge aspect of you. Social medias are not free services, they turn their users into products and their information into profit by selling links to advertisers. It could be one of the greatest scams ever.
Sure the sea of information out there in the cyber world may be seen as a place where your information is lost in the abyss with others. Yet today vast super computing power can search that information to discover valuable chunks of data that can be linked together and used for purposes we could never imagine. As more devices become computerized and ‘smart,’ there will be an explosion of information gathering. As we look toward the horizon of technological change we see computers with artificial intelligence out-thinking humans and using all this gathered information.
There are times of the year such as during the post-holiday lull when we often look for relief from the doldrums of life. Let us remember that we need to be wary of the numbing affects of technology and not be lulled into a false sense of security. This is a time when we must learn how to be more human and not fooled by the temptations of technology.
Not long after we switched from the horse and carriage to the automobile, we became addicted. People drove everywhere and soon there were traffic jams. More roads were needed and existing ones had to be enlarged. For futurists, the sky seemed to hold the solution and they began to sell the idea of the personal flying car. It became a promise, a dream, even an icon of the future—when you have a personal flying car, you will know that the future has arrived.
I remember going with my dad to get gas for our car. The price was $0.25 per US gallon. Nobody even thought about an oil crisis. Super highways, like the Interstate highway system of the United States were being built to crisscross the country. We lived in Portland, Oregon and often drove the I-5 up to Vancouver to visit relatives. But, as you might realize from the title here, this is not about gas, oil, or the highway system, although, in a way it is. In a time when road travel by car, and just as important for shipping products by truck, was becoming modernized and efficient, the dream of flying cars floated somewhere on the horizon.
In my youth, I watched George Jetson in the introduction to each episode drop members of his family off one by one for the day and then land his flying car, which immediately folded up into a briefcase. Wow, what a concept—a car briefcase. One of my favourite shows was called Supercar. It was done with marionettes and this car could, not only fly, it could go under water too. In science fiction movies, utopian scenes of tall buildings with cars flying between them promised an outer space like calm and serene life of floating around in the sky.
Fifty years later, oil crisis, defamation of pristine landscapes by concrete and pavement, air pollution causing global warming and other serious issues; we seem to have progressed only slightly closer to the idea of the flying car. The illusive number one promise for the future seems to keep slipping away and now seems like it might be another fifty years into the future.
Clearly, the single greatest problem is the technology that is still lacking. A flying car, like the one depicted in the Star Wars movies that just seems to levitate above the ground, even when not in operation, has no supporting technology today that could lead to the development of such a machine. To build a flying car, we would still have to resort to technology that was around fifty years ago. The vehicle would have to be like a helicopter with noisy rotor blades thrashing the air, possibly sucking birds in and spewing them out as mincemeat and feather tufts. The other alternative would be jets which would probably be even more dangerous and have pollution issues.
Even if it were possible to invent a viable flying car, issues regarding airspace, would prohibit them. These days small drones are available at a reasonable price. Some companies, such as Amazon, plan to make deliveries by drone, however airspace safety is an issue. These are small drones and probably only a few would be used. Drones would hopefully fly very low to stay out of commercial airspace. However, where I live there are float planes taking off and landing in the harbour downtown, flying low and very close to office buildings. Another problem with drones is privacy. The main payload on non-military drones is a camera. From the earliest days of drone use, people began to report that their privacy was breached by a drone spying on them. Can you imagine if everybody was driving around in a flying car hovering near the windows of houses and buildings where unsuspecting people would suddenly see someone looking in at them?
In 1965, it was apparent that flying cars were among the great inventions promised for the future, along with robots, large-scale space travel, automated homes, wrist watch video phones (Dick Tracy) and other fascinating ideas. It was common for future predictions delivered by these promises to include “In the future, we will…” The potential problems with lacking the necessary technology, or understanding how such inventions would be possible, were accompanied with the notion that science and technology would progress and such underlying technology would simply be available in the future.
Will we ever see flying cars? The move now is toward autonomous self-driving vehicles. Even this sounds to me like it holds some hefty hurdles. For a few years, we have seen cars that can park themselves, however, navigating in traffic would involve the use of artificial intelligence. One would simply sit back and let a computer navigate around in traffic that would comprise a combination of vehicles that may or may not be under the control of a human. How would flying cars navigate with no roads in the sky? Would everybody just make a bee-line to where ever they wish to go and simply hope that they see all the other traffic doing the same thing so they can avoid a crash?
Would there ever be a time when every vehicle would come under the control of a smart machine? What about collectors of old cars who dust them off on weekends to cruise around? I see another huge problem. If we relinquish control of our vehicles to smart machines and are no longer maintaining our skills of operating a motor vehicle, what happens if for some reason we do need to actually take back control? Our skills will have diminished.
Consider all the technology you can think of in your life. Is it 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time? What about glitches? How about hackers? Could autonomous driving vehicles ever be considered 100 percent safe and perfect? If not, what are the possible results of any failures?
We have had a quick look at and considered issues involving vehicles on the horizontal plane. What might be some of the issues when we add to the mix vehicles on a vertical plane? How about when landing and taking-off? It is unlikely that runways would be used, so these cars would haver to be capable of vertical take-off and landing. In some ways, I feel like we have painted ourselves into a corner and are stuck on the ground for some time to come. The issues are very complex.
There was a time when the idea of an electric car seemed to die and the culprit was likely the oil industry. Fortunately, we are on track for the electric car to one day over-take gas powered automobiles. One could consider this a step closer to a personal flying car as the weight of a tank of gas would be prohibitive. Personal flying cars would therefore be electric and probably only be able to carry one or two people, no other cargo. Thus, battery weight will also have to be reduced through new battery technologies. The electric motors will have to be quiet and very powerful. Could this technology be developed that would be economical and affordable? An airline is affordable because it travels at a high speed over a long distance. Low speed and short distance increases the cost of operation. Then, when you arrive at your destination, if you have to wait before you can land for somebody else to land, then your vehicle would have to hover using full thrust. A land-based vehicle simply idles.
In the early days of the automobile, there were electric cars that were very good. However, the internal combustion engine became popular. Even beginning back in the days of Henry Ford, personal flying cars have been promised, designed and even prototypes made. A few personal flying cars might one day be possible, but imagine if most vehicles were to one day become electric and leave the roads and highways barren and desolate? If this happened rather suddenly, by that I mean within a few decades, what might happen to the oil industries and other industries related to the cars, roads and highways?
Futurists often point to the fact that travel by airplane is safer statistically than car travel. We need to keep in mind that it takes a huge expensive infrastructure of complex technology and highly trained personnel to make the airline industry so safe. Can we expect the operators of flying cars to become pilots? If flying cars are operated only by computers, will that be 100 percent safe? Has anyone had their car stall? A flying car that stalls, will simply drop from the sky. Reducing that possibility would mean following the maintenance schedule of an airplane. Even then accidents would still happen. Can we expect the average person to follow that? A mid-air collision would mean that the vehicles involved would simply drop from the sky. How would these vehicles manage in tight flying spaces, like near buildings, in wind or other weather turbulences? Perhaps all flying cars would be run by a company who would maintain them—so much for the idea of the personal flying car.
When we drive our cars, we follow the rules of the road and rely extensively on signage to direct us. How would rules of the air work? Who has the right of way? Where would the signage be hung? Could everybody be trusted to follow the rules? OK, so this is beginning to look like it will have to fall entirely in the realm of computers. Do we really want to completely give up control? There goes the thrill of being at the controls and driving our personal flying car.
I can see the possibility of making flying vehicles part of the public transit system. When I look at traffic, by far the majority of it is commuters traveling to and from work places or special events. The number of cars on the road with only the driver going someplace where they will have to park amazes me. How many of these people would give up their car for a cheap individualize mode of transportation straight to their destination. Yes, I said individualized, or even carpools. This would be automated and part of the transit system. You would get picked up where you live, like a taxi, and dropped at your destination. That might work.
The automobile has become a symbol of wealth, power and freedom. People like the idea of being in control of a technological machine and being able to go where they want when they want. The modern automobile is comfortable and powerful; with all manner of features and gadgets. People will drive somewhere to get a good price on a product and not factor in the cost of the car, including gas, maintenance and replacement. Never mind the cost to the environment and the human stress due to traffic and the impending dangers of driving. The freedom seems to cancel-out the added cost to any of our endeavours.
The automobile has not changed much in its 100 years of life. There have been some mechanical, design and safety improvements along with plenty of features added, yet a car is still a carriage with an internal combustion engine that rolls on wheels. Some things seem to never change. Our cars keep changing, yet the more they do, the more they stay the same. The personal flying car, like the future, may never arrive, at least not as expected. What unforeseen baggage might it might bring?
This is the first article in a series of six that look at artificial intelligence from a human perspective. This first one appears on this blog, the other five will be included in the up coming book—The future never arrives… at least not as expected and it always brings baggage.
The notion of humans developing smart artificially intelligent machines has been around for a few decades. Perhaps it represents the holy grail of human ingenuity and invention. Admittedly I had never thought the idea through. To sufficiently understand how these machines might work and what smart machines in our lives might look like.
As I have been working my way through the material for my book, artificial intelligence (AI) has naturally surfaced. Some sort of AI is a reality now in things like Siri on the iPhone. Even smarter AI is getting closer. That has caused more than one person, such as Stephen Hawking, to ring alarm bells announcing something like, AI could be the last invention humans make. A smart machine would essentially amplify the human mind; it might very well out-think humans and over-take them.
As I began to think about the possible AI scenarios, I connected the dots of some other ideas like ‘big data,’ ‘the Internet of things’ (IoT) and ‘the Internet of everything’ (IoE). With big data, the vast amount of unstructured information we have been dumping on the Internet for decades can now be processed with huge computing power available today. IoT and IoE is the goal of putting a computer in everything and connecting them with each other and the Internet.
I began to realize that this could be a recipe for disaster, as a smart machine would be able to tap into all the information available on the Internet along with everything in our lives that is computerized. This began to look like a doomsday scenario for humans. How long could we live in a world of machines that just might begin to see us as an inferior nuisance?
Then I asked myself; just how accurate and true is the information on the Internet? I know that humans make mistakes and that not everything you find on the Internet should be believed. I have even heard people dismiss Wikipedia as inaccurate in many places. That can be seen in articles that are missing citations. I know that Facebook often shows me people I might want to connect with. Since I have never heard of many of them, I wonder why I would want to be ‘friends’ with them? Then there is the volumes of noise, that useless sea of information senselessly dumped on the networks. Of course I mustn’t leave out the fact that much information, for whatever reason, is in error. It might be information that has mistakes, or has expired. It might have been purposely and even maliciously made inaccurate, such as a scam or a review of a product placed to promote the product rather that give truthful representation of its value.
If the Internet is being created by humans, then it stands to reason that it is a reflection of who humans are. Thus it must include all our faults. Suddenly I realized that plugging a smart machine into this abyss of information ranging in accuracy might actually not result in the desired outcomes we so treasure through all the promises of technology. How can smart machines assist humans with their daily lives if the information that is available has holes in it?
We humans are duped often by inaccurate information. We also have some very sophisticated abilities to determine that which we choose to believe as accurate. This could range from our experience, to intuition, to our beliefs and values that guide our decision making processes. I have concluded that an AI computer may never be able to make the same decisions we make. That having such machines be guided by what is available on the Internet might actually be no better than what we can do for ourselves, perhaps even worse.
My recent declaration to people I meet has been that we should be nurturing those aspects of being human that a computer would not be able to mimic. I have been stating that we need to be more creative, emotional, inspirational, irrational—the list can go on. I have been advocating that we borrow from the essence of what jazz music is to live a life free from the often enslaving attributes of the Technojungle.
Now that I take a closer look, the Internet is, truly in many ways, a reflection of who humans are, faults and all, inaccuracies and all. Smart machines might quite simply get lost on the many paths and trails we humans have weaved through the Technojungle we created. Where would that leave us if we have decided that technology will always improve humankind?
In the end, the jungle, the Technojungle, keeps growing, but it remains a jungle. No matter what we do with machines, or what machines try to do with us, the human element is always there and that make it a jungle. The Technojungle exists because of the differences between humans and machines.
Let’s think about it!
Next: Hunting on the human trail
The next article and the entire series of six, will appear in the upcoming book mentioned at the beginning of this article.
As we hurl ourselves down the technological path toward a life assisted by artificial intelligence, we need to ask some questions that have been asked for decades by science fiction writers. These are serious questions that we all should be asking and considering. Turning our lives over to intelligent machines might just have some pitfalls that we may not foresee.
The truth is that we are not living simple harmonious lives with our technology. Our lives are complex, full of anxieties and overwhelming. Technology is developing faster than we can keep up. We simply ‘attempt’ to find a way of managing. In the midst of all the technology and information clutter, we are being led into a life where very smart, artificially intelligent, machines are going to be integrated ever deeper into our lives and in very important aspects of our lives.
Fifty years ago, around 1965, likely a couple of years later, the sci-fi TV show Star Trek became popular. It was different, not like the usual spaceship from Mars or the monsters from outer space. This show had deep drama and looked at some serious questions in an entertaining way. It actually had a small budget, but I liked it. I would never have called myself a Trekie, however, I can look back and see how metaphorically, the show can teach us about some of the issues and possible circumstances we may have or be facing.
There are many episodes I could write about. However for now, let me pick one, The Ultimate Computer, and recount what I can from mostly memory. In this particular episode, a super computer is installed on the Starship Enterprise and given full control. Most of the crew are given leave and the ship has a skeleton crew. After some simple maneuvering exercises, everyone is amazed. Another starship captain said to Kirk, “My regards to Captain Dunsail.” Nobody understands what that means. Mr. Spock explains that it is a term used among midshipmen to refer to a part which serves no purpose. The comment is meant to indicate that Captain Kirk is no longer needed. A human replaced by a machine. Several starships engage the Enterprise in some war game exercises. The computer mistakenly thinks the Enterprise is actually under attack. Kirk, realizing that something is going wrong, commands the helmsman to break-off the attack. When the helm doesn’t respond, Kirk orders manual over-ride to no avail. By now the computer has had the Enterprise destroy a cargo ship and damage a starship killing crew members. Thus they head to the room where the computer is to see how they might get it to respond. With communications cut off, they are unable to contact the other starships to explain what is happening.
Finally, it was determined that the plug should be pulled. Strangely, as I recall, it was actually plugged into the wall. A man goes to the plug and a blue beam is sent across the room by the computer across the room and the man was killed. The man who created the computer stated that the computer needed more power and the man got in the way. Kirk’s memorable reply, I think was, “How long until we all just get in the way?” Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy states that the computer inventor is unstable and becoming psychotic.
They are in a typical Star Trek pickle for which there seems to be no solution. The computer is using the Enterprise to shoot up other starships and there is no way to stop it. Once again, it takes Captain Kirk to save the day. Under the threat of an order from another captain to the other Federation vessels to destroy the Enterprise, he decides to persuade the computer to break-off the attack. He learns that the computer must protect humans. When Kirk points out that the computer is killing humans and asks what the penalty is for murder, the computer drops the shields that protects the ship from the retaliation of the other starships and turns itself off. The crew were able to take back control of the Enterprise. Kirk however orders that the shields remain down and that the ship remain dead looking. They would not defend the Enterprise and would risk being destroyed.
This episode, like most Star Trek episodes, metaphorically presents us with some important issues to consider in our current relationship with technology. We are entering the final frontier. It is not necessarily space, although that is certainly a part. The frontier we are entering is of sharing our lives with artificially intelligent machines—perhaps even becoming nearly one with our machines. Machines that have access to all the knowledge we have stored on the Internet, to information that we are willingly allowing the Internet to collect about us daily—machines that can amplify the human mind and eventually out-think humans. An important point here that will be discussed further in another article is that much of the information on the Internet is inaccurate, even false, or at the least, often noise.
The computer in the Star Trek episode, is allowed to have full control of the ship and the lives of all those left on board. It makes a fatal mistake of mis-interpreting what are supposed to be exercises to evaluate the effectiveness of the computer. In a simulated attack situation, the computer believes it is under an actual attack. We can argue that safeguards may be developed to protect an artificially intelligent system from technical errors, from malicious attack and other possible ways it might malfunction. But, what happens when the machine simply makes a mis-judgement. We humans and our methods of communicating are complex. There are ways we understand each other through language and other means that a machine might not interpret in the same way. What if, in protecting its group of humans, it attacks another group when it perceives that the other group is hostile in some way? What happens when our computers lock-out human intervention?
The computer installed on the Enterprise is somehow based on the mind of the man who developed it. As the man exhibits unstable behaviours, so does the computer. If we do this with our machines, might we also transfer those aspects or characteristics that cause us to have discrepancies among ourselves that lead to war? If we become machines in this way, we could be no better off than we are now as flesh and blood.
We know that the Internet was invented during the Cold War of the 1960s and that one of the goals is for it to be able to survive any sort of attack, such as a nuclear holocaust. In other words, the Internet can’t be turned off or disconnected. Sound familiar? If we tell the machine, as they did in the Star Trek episode, that the situation is only an exercise, will the machine believe us? Or, might it think that our statement is dis-information and part of the attack? Any sort of ‘protect the human’ mandate could easily result in a ‘protect the human at any cost mandate.’ Does the computer protect a single human it is assigned to? A particular group? Or, will the machine have to figure out how to protect all humans at any cost? What might we have to destroy to stop a machine that is out of control?
A man trying to pull the plug, was killed. The explanation given was that he simply got in the way. Might we eventually simply get in the way of our intelligent machines? If the mandate of the machine is to protect humans, then it must protect itself above that mandate or else it would fail. How long until a machine perceives something we do as a hostile action against it? Will our machines all be linked to work together, or will we have several, or thousands, or millions of those smart machines working independently or, in some way, inter-dependently? How will they work together and not end up working against each other and against some humans? What might have happened if all the starships had the same computer testing each other?
We are on the verge of having autonomous driving cars. Should we take a look at the metaphorical story presented to us in this episode of Star Trek before we release ourselves to the fate of machines? Once we have this technology installed and are using it, if we determine that we no longer wish to use it, will we be able to disconnect it? What about other technology applications of smart artificially intelligent machines, such as information and communications?
There is another problem. Suppose we are successful in developing machines that can take over functions that humans can do? This already exists and has for decades. How many of us actually do math in our heads? Do we not turn to a calculator? How about spelling? I used to know many telephone numbers that I could recall as I would dial, almost automatically. Today, I probably only know two. In the field of education, we have a saying, “Use it or lose it.”
Imagine the Enterprise has been operated for a long period of time under the control of a machine. A situation arises where a human needs to intervene and even take over. At best, the person, the Captain, would be rusty. At worse, those fantastic skills of running a starship might even be lost. As we turn over our tasks to machines and come to rely on machine support in our lives, we find our abilities diminish and may disappear.
I suggest we cultivate and nurture the qualities that truly make us human. As the Enterprise, by Captain Kirk’s order, lies disabled, shields down, open to attack, the commander of the Federation starship war games orders that all the other ships to stand down. When questioned about his dangerous decision, Kirk replies, “I gambled on Bob Wesley’s humanity.” McCoy’s comment is poignant, that compassion is something that computers will never have. Let us consider other human qualities that a computer may never have.