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Op/Ed

Is the AI tech boom going to blow up in our faces?

(EDITORIAL) Ironically, the answer to the question, “Will Skynet kill us all?” lies not in the eternal, shiny and chrome future, but in history. Is AI about to blow up in our faces?

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Tech is on the up and up

It feels almost redundant to say we live in an age of unprecedented technological growth. I mean, look at this stuff. That’s just since 2010 – throughout the world, and not just the privileged world, tech has been in a state of exponential improvement for generations.

Some people are pretty concerned about that.

I don’t blame them. Neither does Dr. Guru Banavar, who wrote a superb article on the subject in the Harvard Business Review. He’s Chief Science Officer for Cognitive Computing at IBM, so one imagines he’d know.

On the other hand, he’s the head of cognitive computing at IBM. He’s kind of got a dog in this hunt. Some other really smart people – Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, for example, three dudes to whom it often pays to listen – are saying the opposite.

*Deep breath*

They’re wrong.

*Pause*

OK, I don’t hear Microsoft office drones or Musk-branded actual drones coming to get me. But maybe they just blue-screened and need a reboot before they march down my street like Cybermen and arrest me for heresy, so let’s get serious.

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Coal, steel, and concrete

Ironically, the answer to the question, “Will Skynet kill us all?” lies not in the eternal, shiny and chrome future, but in history. When I said tech has been exponentially improving for generations, it wasn’t hyperbole. It was math. Human life has changed more in the last 300 years than in the twenty thousand beforehand, when we figured out putting seeds in the ground makes them do stuff. The Industrial Revolution never really ended. The combination of Newton’s rigor and Watt’s engineering that remade the mostly agrarian world with coal and steel and concrete, is still remaking the world, still mostly with coal and steel and concrete.

More importantly, a chilling amount of recent history has been about managing, and too often failing to manage, the consequences of those changes, whether economic, environmental, or terribly human.

Worse before it gets better

AI is going to be another big change. Industrial Revolution big? Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an oracle. But I’m putting my money behind Dr. Banavar rather than the Three Wise Geeks, because this time we have an unprecedented advantage: 300 years of our ancestors screwing up. London had two million people in it before it had sewers. That led directly, and unsurprisingly, to the germ theory of disease, which in turn led to not dying of tooth decay. I am in favor of not dying of tooth decay.

The only reason AI is a thing is because the great pre-AI paradigm shift was an immeasurably vast increase in the availability of data. That means that this time, we have a chance of seeing the consequences coming. Thanks both to pro-AI scholars like Dr. Banavar and AI skeptics like Dr. Hawking, the implementation of AI could be something new: a conscious revolution.

After all, we were afraid of this change decades before it came.

Alan Turing, founding father of computer science took on the philosophical tangles of AI all of two years after the first stored-program computer was created, and  Hubert Dreyfus – not to mention HAL and Superman – addressed the fears and failures of artificial intelligence when it was still a tall ask to get a computer in one room.

Or will we triumph?

When Thomas Newcomen set his piston bouncing, he had no idea he’d started the Industrial Revolution. He was just trying to dry out a mine. There wasn’t an angel on his shoulder whispering “Hey, before you turn on your engine, have you considered it might cause a cholera outbreak in London and the subsequent founding of epidemiology?” We’ve got the angel, in the form of a wealth of opinions on what machine learning should and should not do.  We’ve traced the lines of dominoes back from the triumphs and tragedies of world history. AI represents a chance at Revolution Mark 2, change guided from “go” by human interests.

Though who knows? Maybe I’m with the Cybermen.

#AI

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Op/Ed

Why I’m not impressed by the ridiculous glorification of over-scheduling your life

(OPINION) It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life. Let’s discuss and see if I can change your mind about your scheduling.

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Comes a voice from the back

If you’re one of those people who keep their calendar filled up with meetings, activities and appointments, check yourself to see if that’s really a fulfilling way to live. In some circles, it’s almost become a badge of honor to have a calendar without any open spaces.  If you feel as if your calendar is out of control, you’re not alone. But you are the only one who can take control of your schedule.

Might I recommend that you stop over-scheduling your time?

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Habits and routine

One of my first articles for TRD’s parent site, The American Genius, was about the false hustle. Being busy all the time is not good for you physically or mentally. It’s exhausting. When your calendar is full, it has to be stressful never to have time for yourself or have the ability to sit down and read or do whatever you want.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Allow for some flexibility into your schedule. Put down what’s important to you, but don’t go gung-ho about organizing your time.

Know your routine

Most people have a routine. I don’t need to write down certain things in my calendar, because I know that I plan to be in church on Sunday. I’m not so rigid that I won’t take a Sunday off, but it doesn’t need to go in my calendar. Much of my work through the week is routine too. I know that I have seven articles due every Monday. I usually try to get them done Friday afternoon, but if I don’t, I know I’ll have to work on them Monday.

Now, you might tell me that you don’t have a regular routine. I know some people have different activities and appointments that have to be scheduled and can’t be missed. When I was helping on the homeschool convention, I would fill in the slots on my calendar of things that were coming up, like board meetings, deadlines and meetings. But I also tried to leave room for adaptability.

Granted, you may have to manage a group of people and need their calendar to overlap yours. If that’s the case, may I suggest having a work calendar and a personal calendar?

Just as entrepreneurs are told to keep business and personal finances separate, leave your work calendar at work.

Ease up on your time management techniques. Know your priorities and learn to say no. Your loved ones will thank you for having some time to be spontaneous. It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life.

#ScheduleYouTime

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Op/Ed

Is the cloud on the verge of death?

(EDITORIAL) There is a theory floating around that the cloud is on the verge of death. Turns out, there’s merit for this line of thought…

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The sky is falling.

At least according to technologist, Viktor Charypar, who proclaimed “the cloud,” as a large-scale approach to computing, is about to nosedive.

To say the least, that’s a surprise.

At this point, it’s safe to call cloud-based computing the dominant paradigm. Those who make their living through that paradigm can be forgiven for dropping their collective monocle, spitting out their collective tea, and having a good old scoff at such scandalous tomfoolery as “the end of the cloud is coming.” I know I did.

But I kept reading, because it is literally my job to do the reading. And you know something?

Charypar is right.

The reason “end of the cloud” has so many metaphorical monocles floating in cups of tea is that tech in general is running full tilt at cloud-based solutions. More and more companies are moving more and more functionality out of consumer hardware and into corporate owned resources, which those corporations then make available as a service.

It’s easy to see why. The previous generation of tech had what they figured was an insoluble problem: you can only stuff so much processing power in a plastic rectangle before it keels over or bursts into flames.

The fix was literally out of the box. Take it out, went the wisdom. Move your computing into remote services, big networks of big iron optimized to meet your needs. That moves processing power and economic power in the same direction: away from the user and toward the service provider. In a sense, it was a return to the very, very old days of personal computing, when “computer” meant the vast and heaving beast in the basement and users just got terminals, access points where they could play with data owned and operated by someone else. Trust me. I’m writing this on a Chromebook.

As Charypar points out, like any tech solution, the cloud paradigm comes with advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: thanks to the Chromebook, this article has gone through three formats on two machines, and I never even had to plug anything in.

Disadvantages? The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable. As tech standards rise – SD to HD, 1080 to 4K – we’re forcing bigger data through tighter tubes. That means everything gets slower, dumber, and uglier. Especially with net neutrality under threat, that’s a serious possibility in the immediate future.

It’s also insecure.

Old one-liner: freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. The Internet fixed that – then promptly no-backsied us with the streaming paradigm. Now, access to data is limited to those who can store and stream it. How much of your entertainment comes from, say, Netflix, or Spotify, or Steam? Because if those services stop working tomorrow, and they could, whatever you’ve invested in them goes too. If their security fails – not unprecedented – you’re the one exposed. They’ve got the data. You’re just paying to play with it.

So, you quite rightly ask, what’s the fix?

BitTorrent.

The soft, splashy clink you just heard was the few remaining metaphorical monocles splashing into caffeinated beverages all over this great country. Someone fetch smelling salts; the entirety of Silicon Valley just got the vapors.

We aren’t advocating that we all grab the digital equivalent of a cutlass and a parrot and return to the scandalous days of piracy. But, as Charypar points out, whatever else you might say about peer-to-peer data transfer, and there’s plenty to say, it worked. It’s proven tech. Back in the day, you could grab a whole season of Deadwood in an hour. I mean, so I heard. In Bible study.

More recently, blockchain has repeatedly demonstrated that peer-to-peer tech solutions are widely applicable and solve many of the problems associated with a cloud-based middleman.

Peer-to-peer solutions like BitTorrent and blockchain are as close to infinitely scalable as technology allows. The processing power grows organically with the network, because the computers on the network are doing the work. Peer-to-peer is secure, too. I’d tell you to ask a cryptocurrency miner, but that’s the point: there’s no way to find one.

Charypar’s argument is that cloud-based computing is approaching its end because it never was an end in itself. It was the first half of the real goal: distributed computing.

Apps built peer-to-peer, sharing data and processing power between users directly, backed with blockchain or other encryption solutions, could represent what the cloud keeps demonstrating it can’t: a safe, stable digital world.

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Op/Ed

Don’t just survive, find mental toughness and thrive

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Strength training doesn’t just pertain to muscles and weight lifting but also to mentality and brain training.

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Strength training your body is a pretty common goal for folks, but what about strength training your willpower? Whether you’re an entrepreneur, civil servant, a student, or somewhere in between: resilience is something that we all need to be successful.

Adversity comes at us in a lot of different forms, and without that resilience even the most talented professional won’t be able to accomplish their goals. We have a lot of different words for resilience – grit, mental toughness, fortitude – and it’s the subject of research and a fascinating piece by James Clear.

The most important takeaway you can pull from Clear’s writing on toughness is that it can be developed. This is something you can build. Some ways to help you build that toughness include:

Command your expectations. In many ways, our expectations fuel our motivations, but too often our expectations get away from us. Everything is a surprise and an emergency – and that lack of control compromises your ability to stay resolved.

Know yourself. Know your motivations and seek to find out who you are. How does your mental resilience connect to your real world success? Define who you are and what the resilient you can accomplish. Your reasons need to be something that you own and that represent who you are – “just because I should” is not a motivation to sustain you to excellence. Do things that can help you get to know yourself better – Psychology Today has some suggestions.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This US Navy SEAL quote is one of the first things I learned getting ready for graduate school. We often face challenges we aren’t’ comfortable with – ask any HR or Management professional having to have a difficult conversation – but it’s how we endeavor through those challenges that defines our victories. If building resilience is like working a muscle, working out of your comfort zone is adding more weight. You can’t grow any stronger without working out of what’s easy and familiar. #comfortablyuncomfortable

Manage your resources. Burnout is real and it’s the far side of stress. Your personal resilience is not an infinite resource and stress can take its impact on you emotionally and physically. Continuing our gym metaphor – burnout is injury. You cannot build your grit if you’re so emotionally burnt out – you have hurt your emotional “muscles”. Find out what you need to do to emotionally recover and build those resources back up. Practice that #selfcare.

I’ll touch back on Clear’s piece again – habits are an important part of all these building techniques. Make it a habit to practice self-care.

Make it a habit to frame your expectations. Make it a habit to write down your goals and connect them to your life. Make it a habit to always embrace the difficult and the uncomfortable. Create a mental foundation that can take you not only through the extreme, but the day to day. Stay consistent, and stay focused.

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