Are our smart devices conditioning us toward a new type of social order?

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Harvesting Human Minds

The more we treat machines as if they were people, the easier it becomes to treat people like machines. Consider the aptly named “Hello Barbie”, billed as the world’s first interactive doll. “Hello Barbie” is programmed to make the following pitch to her young subjects, “I’d love to learn more about you. Oh, I know! Let’s make a game of it. The game’s called Family Town! We’re gonna pretend all your family members run different shops in a make-believe town! I’ll be a visitor and you’ll show…

The universe is made of music and stories, not information

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Sometimes we only become aware of a critical human ability when we’re about to lose it. Once I fought a futile battle to convey the value of novels and poetry to my son. After much sparing, I felt as if an unbridgeable divide had grown up between those of us whose inner lives revolve around the “fertile miracle of a communication effected in solitude” (Proust 2008, 67), i.e. reading, and those whose brains seem to act as extensions of their smartphone apps. As the battle drew to a close, he…

How are users algorithmically managed while online?

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If fifteen years ago, you had been told that by 2020 nearly everyone would carry around a device in their pocket that tracked their lifestyle, friends, prejudices, purchases, videos, political opinions, facial expressions, and physical location, you might have laughed and accused the teller of being a “conspiracy theorist.” But today’s online reality is well-described by Jaron Lanier in a recent book, “Algorithms gorge on data about you, every second. What kinds of links do you click on? What videos do you watch all the way through? How quickly are you moving from…

How can we awaken imagination?

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Does the way we consume digital media impact our capacity to imagine new kinds of stories, images, or musical forms? According to Jaron Lanier, of virtual reality fame, the dream many pioneers once had that the internet would bring about dazzling new forms of music and art has died, “The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract. The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without…

How can we cultivate our memory in order to open our minds to new insights?

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One day I was almost convinced that artificial intelligence had started to think for itself. Facebook had developed AI-based negotiation agents that had supposedly created their own language and the humans who wrote the agents’ code could not figure it out. According to an article in The Independent titled, “Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Robots Shut Down After They Start Talking To Each Other In Their Own Language” [1], these AI agents had found a way to profitably swap commodities by hacking the English language in a way that no one but themselves knew how to unravel.

As I clicked from link…

How can leisure activities free us from digital dependency?

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At a major technology event, Jaron Lanier faced the stony eyes of high school students who had won a state-wide contest that gave them the chance to ask questions of tech leaders. Their first question was, “If artificial intelligence is going to surpass people in our lifetimes, if we won’t have jobs, if the future doesn’t need us, why did our parents have us? Why are we here?” [1] Apparently these students believed that the sole significant difference between human and machine intelligence was processing efficiency. If cold, hard data alone…

How can we create flourishing human relationships?

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Jaron Lanier, one of the founders of virtual reality, asked the following question, “If the ‘hive mind’ is my audience, who am I?” [1] The hive mind is an order in which each mental node, whether human or machine, coordinates its operations within the system as a whole, whose knowledge becomes the master identity to which each separate node must be subordinate. But do the entities that make up the hive mind of the global electronic intelligence form an actual person? Some of our digital leaders seem to think so but they also…

Given how user data-driven platforms now work, how might a data-driven self-driving car network reshape its human passengers?

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Las Vegas habitués who need a ride can now hail a self-driving car from Lyft. Though each car arrives with a safety driver at the wheel, human intervention is mostly confined to parking lots and hotel pick up areas. Few now doubt that as autonomous vehicles become safer and more widely available, their potential for eliminating one of world’s major causes of death and injury will drive their acceptance. …

Boyd Collins

Web developer for 26 years. I write about how to find freedom from distraction and weave a harmonious tapestry of life.

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