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The Future is Creepy

I love to agitate friends and relatives with stories of scary advances in technology. The cold knife of science can seem unethical or uncaring when we see it applied in technology. Technological evolution is inevitable, but the good news is it won’t happen without us, so we have an opportunity to guide it.

Technical innovation brings cultural shifts. The ever-improving tide of Artificial Intelligence will change a lot of business processes and personal interactions in mind- blowing ways – again, we hope ethically.

At Pioneer Square Labs, we work to solve real business problems for human customers by applying the latest technology.  Someone in the office joked recently, “Is anything we do not creepy?” Actually, no – at this point it all is slightly creepy. That’s the nature of technology. Think of the first phone call. That must’ve been downright freaky!

Is technology good or bad? I think the vast majority of people would say technology is good. The net effect betters the human condition.

Losing your privacy

Convenience is the opposite of security. We live in an age of unparalleled convenience. Digital data wants to be free. You can transfer your life savings to someone else from a handheld device. This year we also had the biggest data breaches of all time.

It’s getting pretty common to have Alexa listening in on your whole conversation. The iPhone X will scan your face. Your government will know who you are. Don’t worry, your license plate has already been tracked by private companies for years.

How do I protect my personal information? 

  1. Don’t fill out your social media profile (and don’t answer quizzes)
  2. Use a password manager to generate and rotate passwords
  3. Don’t click on attachments
  4. Don’t go online <lol>

Targeted

Those annoying recurring shoe advertisements for the shoes you clicked on last month are just the tip of the iceberg (“retargeting”). The next time you buy fried chicken, maybe you’ll pay for it by smiling. Of course, the app you’re using to read this probably knows if you’ll ever buy anything or not.

Giving up your sense of self

We rely on technology. I can’t re-create electricity when I lose it. I can’t even recreate fire. As technology gets more intimate, the barrier between us and it is going to be even more blurry. Think of how unhappy you were the last time you dropped your phone in water (or had a poor Wifi connection).

Not only will you not be able to tell what is human and what is machine generated, you will start relying on machines to generate things and augment your own memory.

Is technology making us dumber? Definitely not, humans are adaptable.

Praying on our weaknesses

App developers have made our vulnerabilities a science. We have weaker but more frequent social interactions with a wider group of friends.

Is technology making us lazy? Maybe.

Is technology making us more alone? Not sure.

Many algorithms require on human training. That mean’s they are subject to our wown built in biases. For example, when Microsoft Tay quickly learned how to make offensive racist statements.

Machines will kill people

Self-drivable cars have already killed people (it wasn’t the algorithm – yet). They will do it less once the self-driving is actually engaged. But how will that car choose between crashing into a school bus and a jaywalker?

Take the sheep herding robot that identified it “only need to eliminate the competition to win.” This is what I mean by the “sharp knife of science.” Science lacks (I think rather beautifully) what society considers common-sense, instead applying a rather a ruthless application of simple logic.

Is technology taking over? That’s the root question. At what point does technology start making decisions for us? I already trust Waze to tell me which way to go. My money is on the year 2040.

They’re taking our jobs

This topic is too big for this post. Stay tuned for the next one.

The ethical questions raised by technology (specifically Artificial Intelligence) are important, amusing, and fascinating. It is wonderful to live in a time when we can witness evolution first hand.

Related: Modeling the Brain, Generating Startup Names with a Neural Network

 

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