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The Robotizing of Man: Future Schlock

As we move through time, we are facilitating that movement with the latest technologies. We know the faster we go, the sooner we will get to wherever we are going. And faster travel leaves less time for sightseeing as things whiz by us in a blur. We can say we are traveling to our particular future, because we are effectively moving through time. Time travel has always been the stuff of science fiction, but I submit to you that we are all capable of actual time travel, not by going to the future, but by bringing the future to us faster.

The ultimate goal for our trip through time is a Utopian reality — no war, disease, crime, pain, or hassle. How do we reach this ideal? We, as a society, would like things to be faster, cheaper, smaller, more convenient, multifunctional, easier, and available 24/7 using less power. The word “ideal” contains the word “idea.” If we can imagine something, it's very likely that someone, somewhere is working on it.

In Our Own Image

Are we being robotized by the electronics we use to help get our jobs done?

Are we being robotized by the electronics we use to help get our jobs done?

Who owns our future?
It is reasonable to ask “Are we determining our future by the things we invent, or do the things we invent determine our future?” I suggest it is more of the latter.

As we introduce more technology with specific operating rules, we ourselves are being programmed to behave a certain way. The gear we use will work only if we perform the required input manipulations flawlessly. Mobile devices have trained us in how to shrink, expand, copy, paste, print, save, transmit, receive, play, record, store, remember, shop, sell, buy, type, etc. And we are still looking for easier and faster ways of doing what we are already doing. As a result, information is coming at us at an incredible rate.

This past week, I was at an upscale hotel in downtown Washington. I was waiting in the lobby for the shuttle to take me back to the airport when I saw something that was both amusing and pathetic. There was a beautiful, wide staircase leading to the second floor. People were rushing up and down it, but right in the middle of the stairs, there was a finely dressed gentleman who looked like someone had touched him while playing a game of freeze tag. He seemed to have stopped in midstride, and the only thing moving on this man was his thumb punching in text on his mobile phone.

A lot of people were passing him on either side, but he was not moving. He had his phone hand suspended about 20 inches from his face, Statue of Liberty style, while his other hand clutched a briefcase. His neck was craned up as he stared at his phone's display. It looked so surreal, and I was determined to watch him until he moved.

After about five minutes, he dropped his phone arm and took two steps toward me. And then he looked at his phone, stopped, and began texting again, assuming the exact same position.

Klaatu barada nikto
I thought that this man was in a world of his own. After another long texting session, he took another two steps. I thought to myself, “This guy is part robot.” His program is repetitive, because his movements are identical. Eventually, he made it to the bottom of the stairs and rushed by me as if his shorts were on fire. I guessed he was about to miss a flight. Now the little device that had commanded him to stop everything was making him run like a madman to his next appointment.

I found myself asking, “Who is in charge?” I know a human was on the other end of that conversation, and it must have been someone very important. This man may have won the game of freeze tag, but he may also have missed his next appointment while trying to compete with a bigger device that was telling the pilot when to take off. And if this man had a coronary trying to catch his flight, I knew that the computer-controlled devices at the hospital would probably help save his life.

Who's the machine now?
Back to my original point: Are we being robotized by the electronics we are using to help get our jobs done? If the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night is check my email, is my behavior becoming more predictable every day? If I can't leave my home without my smartphone, my iPad, and other accessories that help direct my daily activities, am I becoming bionic (part man, part machine)? If there is a line somewhere, I must have crossed it a while ago, because now I need this stuff to function and meet all my expectations.

As to the future accelerating toward us, just ask my 88-year-old mother. This world does not make any sense to her. She says she might as well be on another planet. She is succumbing to future shock, because the technology-enabled changes hit her so hard and so fast that she just couldn't keep up.

With every new gadget utilizing converging technologies, the future is only a button click away. Keep your Google Glasses in your man purse; I don't even want to see them. If they see me, they will jump on my face and take me to places that belong to someone else's future. I'm still trying to outrun my own.

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38 comments on “The Robotizing of Man: Future Schlock

  1. Ariella
    April 12, 2013

    Some are already thinking about possible legal ramifications for robotics in the futre. From http://www.technologyreview.com/view/513571/does-a-tele-robot-operator-need-a-visa-and-w-2/:

    But the near-term challenge is that machines are starting to combine software-controlled autonomy and human involvement ways that presents entirely new situations. The first death caused by a driveless car will raise similar issues. Bugs are inevitable in complex software, but it's different when this software could cause a hit-and-run.

     

  2. SP
    April 12, 2013

    yes quite agree that electronics is controlling human beings these days. In a scenario someone is just enjoying the family time with kids and suddenly there is a nasty email from boss on the samrtphone and you tend to reply and the person's mood changes. He is completely off from the family time. Earlier people used to keep office separate and personal life separate, some intentionally did and sometimes when you are on travel no emails no access to office stuff but now with smartphones around you are literally be working all the time or atleast your mind does. Kids also enjoy playing games indoors rather than in playgrounds.

  3. Ariella
    April 12, 2013

    @SP and even when they're playing out side, some kids keep themselves tied to devices, as depicted in these pictures:

     I feel compelled to note that there really should be an apostrophe before the s in “Todays.”

  4. SP
    April 12, 2013

    so true…this a very common sight these days..i guess kids feel some kind of pride in having hi fi gadgets…

  5. Ariella
    April 12, 2013

    @SP the right gadgets prove one's cool status, just like having the right sneakers or bag. Kids today seem to recognize brands just after they recognize colors.

  6. dalexander
    April 12, 2013

    @SP…when gadgets are invented, I wonder if there is an overarching body of concern that considers what the ultimate social impact is going to be? That would be advisable as it seems we are creating stuff that removes us from our immediate environment and immersing us into a hybrid or virtual one. We used to play baseball on our street and only go to the curb when a car came by. I used the gutter to play marbles, and trees were for climbing in to play Tarzan of the Apes. I just don't see kids playing outside for just fun. I see them hanging out with earbuds all talking to each other and texting, but no games whatsoever.

  7. Anand
    April 13, 2013

     Are we being robotized by the electronics we are using to help get our jobs done

    @Douglas, thanks for the thought provoking article. I totally agree with your opinion that we are being robotized by the electronics we are using. We are relying so much on the electronics that without them we find it hard to spend time. I think we should start making more conscious effort to minimize the use of technology in our day to day life.

  8. Anand
    April 13, 2013

    That would be advisable as it seems we are creating stuff that removes us from our immediate environment and immersing us into a hybrid or virtual one

    @Douglas, things are going to get even more challenging once products like Google glasses are released to market. Unfortunately people like to be in virtual world rather than enjoy being in the immediate environment. 

  9. Anand
    April 13, 2013

     even when they're playing out side, some kids keep themselves tied to devices, as depicted in these pictures

    @Ariella, true. This has become a common trend everywhere. Kids enjoy computer games more than games which involve physical exercise. Parents should make sure that their kids dont overuse the technology. 

  10. dalexander
    April 14, 2013

    @anandvy…how can we reduce our use of electronic devices unless everyone does so at the same time. My boss wants me available by phone or Skype. My wife and I have to stay in touch, and if I am going to give a timely response to comments on EBN, I need to have my iPad so I can write a response while I am in bed just before I go to sleep. Like now. Pleasant dreams and may all your devices hold their charge and may all your accessories become continually lighter.

  11. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 14, 2013

    The history of the technological inventions , innovations and discoveries shows that the basic purpose of each of the new things that were created by Man was to make life easier. But that purpose later on gets so twisted that it starts looking like a new evil to the mankind as a whole.

    Firearms were created to defend – now they are used by maniacs to kill for no purpose.

    Nuclear energy was harnesses to generate electricty without the polluting fuels like coal. – Now it is being used by nations to threaten to destroy the humanity

    Mobile phones were created to ease the communication for people on the move. Now they have made people stay indoors more than to be on the field

    Continous improvement in cars was meant to make the driving safer and less strenous – Now the gadjets in the car make the driver do evrything else than looking ahead on the road.

    And this a trend a majority of our human population will follow with every new gadjet. And those cash greedy companies are ready to turn every such innovation to make man more lazier than ever and fill their pockets.

    The big problem is , neither the political leadership, nor the intelectual leadrship is taking a serious note of this.

    Like the hazards of using conflict materials are now getting worldwide attention, similar regulations are required to keep the human being from being adultrated by the modern technology.

  12. dalexander
    April 14, 2013

    @prabhakar…What a statement! You are right on. The word “lazy” is very apt in the fact that most forms of entertainment are indulgences under the guise of promoting higher states of comfort and convenience. Taken as a whole, it is very depressing. The legacy this leaves to our children is equally frightening. Kids are taking longer to mature because they have “life” brought to them and they don't need to go very far to be distracted and pulled off point. If you can keep someone distracted long enough, their life goes right on by without purpose or real engagement. I have read all of your comments with great appreciation, but this one is the best so far. You are a real thinker and I encourage you to comment on as many blogs as you find will give you an opportunity to make your voice known.

  13. Adeniji Kayode
    April 14, 2013

    @Sp

    What do you think should be the correct question ” who should be controlling what” or “what should be controlling who”

    It seems while we create these stuffs, they seems to influence and dictate our daily lives

  14. Adeniji Kayode
    April 14, 2013

    @Sp

    Don,t you think these Hifi gadgets makes their day, Its seems the more gadgets we have the more our days are boring without them.

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    April 14, 2013

    @Douglas

    You are right on that, that is the extend the gadgets have brought us.

    Do you expect it to get better or worse in the nearest future?

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    April 14, 2013

    @anandvy,

    Good point anandvy, but how possible is that?

    It is easy when we do not have them, now we have them to help solve a problem except that our dependency is now on the extreme side.

    Can we really do without them anymorte

  17. dalexander
    April 14, 2013

    @Adeniji…I think that is the real question. We have to look at who is pushing this mobile movement. Are the designers designing to meet or create demand? I think the expectations the consumer has is almost like a challenge to engineers and programmers. In an article I wrote, “Iithink I won't upgrade” about my iPad, I stated that I had it doing everything for me. But now, there is an LCD technology that can read a persons bone mass, blood flow, and other biophysical indicators, to auto-configure the touch display to just one user. That means, if I lost my iPad, nobody else would be able to use it. If that becomes a standard technology, then why would anyone want to steal an iPad. So, just when I think I am through with upgrades, along comes a tech that is worth considering. My body characteristics become the front door key into my data house. So, I think there will always be compelling reasons to enslave ourselves to our devices. How can this possibly be turned around?

  18. William K.
    April 14, 2013

    Of course we can have all sorts of those demonic little electronic things interfereing with our lives, or, we can choose to not embrace the demons and to ignore them, and really refuse to care what others think. Just because we are able to buy toys to dominate our lives does not mean that it will benefit us at all. 

    Of course there is a challenge that comes with not choosing to give up thinking and instead follow the crowd, which is that we will indeed need to pay attention for extended periods of time, and concentrate hard enough to understand a few things. So it is indeed a bit more effort to not be a “plain vanilla idiot” just like the masses that follow some on twitter.

  19. dalexander
    April 14, 2013

    @William…it all began with the silicon boom. The first four function calculators, the Zilog80 chip, solid state memory, and GPUs and MCUs. From there, it was a game of mix and match, add and subtract, speed-up and shrink, combine and hybridize. The value of a single technology is not as significant as the converging applications that produce higher and higher level products that replace older ones. Instead of three different things in your pocket, now you just need one. One will replace five, ten, twenty and then some. We can choose to ride a horse to work and try to find a hitching post, but just as the invention of the automobile changed lives forever, our electrified world won't slow down for equestrians in the slow lane. If I wasn't in business and had no need of income, I might be able to disconnect. Not there yet.

  20. Lavender
    April 14, 2013

    Yes. I still remember there were many games for us in my childhood, but now the games all have disappeared. When I back to home for holiday, I found I have no one to play, just stay at home, smartphone become my only playmate. Other guys never go out. 

  21. FLYINGSCOT
    April 15, 2013

    With all this new technology we are all part of developing do you think it is really improving our lives or simply adding more disctraction and stress.  What about one day a week where we are all forced to turn off the machines (TV, phones, internet) and simply spend time with our loved ones or reflecting by ourselves.  I reckon that would enhance all our lives.

  22. SP
    April 15, 2013

    People should make sure they go to cuntryside more often,free from all their technology gadgets and enjoy the nature. Because we are all humans not machines.

  23. Ariella
    April 15, 2013

    @SP I'm a believer in the revitalizing power of nature because I feel so much better after being out with grass, trees, and flowers. But it's a hard-sell for people who seek constant electronic stimulation.

  24. William K.
    April 15, 2013

    The intrusion of all of the technology toys as running our daily lives winds up compelling us to make a decision, the same one that is proposed to those who drink alcohol a lot: “Who will be in charge?” The magnitude of the decision is not a whole lot different, between letting booze be in charge or all of the technical toys be in charge. And quite possibly the quality of life results are not that immensely different, either.

    Constant connection and constant inebriation are both unnatural states and they both provide injury and damage if they go on too long or get too extreme. The damage is different but just as real, and just as frequently denied.

    No, I am not some Luddite nut-job, but I have made the decision that constant connection would not be any benefit nor would it improve the quality of my life. And I certainly don't stand to gain anything from being exposed to all the thoughts of anybody. When I need to communicate I do, but it is on my terms and not an ambient mode of existance. Quite different from those who are chronicly connected.

  25. dalexander
    April 15, 2013

    @William…Constant connection and constant inebriation are both unnatural states…that is a quotable quote if I ever heard one. Now what? I guess this has to be an individual decision after all. I haven't watched TV since April 4th. My vital signs are all good and the world seems pretty much the same. I could be wrong, but my knowing or not knowing what is going on hasn't seemed to impact anything to any real extent. I am not a talking head so I suppose if I was, I might be effected. I have managed to read my various magazines like Popular Science and RF Microwave, check out a book for Dummies, and even right a few articles, but I don't think that is going to make the News so maybe turning off one gadget has not severed a major artery. I think my main artery, the one I call iPad, runs from my brain to my heart and keeps me in touch with family, friends, and interesting stuff. My electronics circulatory system can run without TV. My electronics nervous system functions without TV too. Maybe I am on to something, or maybe I am off of something….hmmmmm.

  26. Wale Bakare
    April 15, 2013

    Unfortunately that's becoming tough challenge to we human beings – engaging with natures. But interaction and relating with machines on day by day is increasing. Do you blame capitalists/investors or engineers for this?

  27. William K.
    April 15, 2013

    The blame points in a number of directions. Certainly if “the capitalists” were not intent on profit none of the stuff would have gone into production, and even more certainly, if engineers had not created it in response to getting paid to create it, nothing would have happened. And certainly also, if people had not purchased the products the production would not have hept on for very long. All of that is true.

    But just because something is created and used does not mean that it is in all of our best interests. Consider all of those illeagal drugs, for instance. There are lots of other things as well, many of them able to be good and useful but also able to be harmful. So once again the decision rests with the individuals.

    But along with that consideration, remember that it is not allowed to sell booze or cigarettes to children.  

  28. dalexander
    April 15, 2013

    @Wale…I think William is right. In short, we are all to blame and when that happens, no one is to blame. It is like putting all your work on priority number 1. When that happens there ceases to be a priority. I think the tricky part of all of this is that when a technology is first introduced, it is very helpful, but over time, when it becomes a necessity and is also twisted into various shapes that are not necessarily necessities, they are still time and attention consumers. Every bit of attention that is drawn into these non necessary inventions are either total time wasters, or empty entertainment. Take your pick.

  29. SP
    April 16, 2013

    well said, Douglas.

  30. dalexander
    April 16, 2013

    @SP…. That being said, I am currently at a hotel with nothing more than my iPad. Instead of watching the big screen TV, I watched two lectures on PCR and enzymes for DNA studies. They were free and they were entertaining and very well presented. This is one good reason why my iPad has become indispensable. I can truly classify my iPad as a necessity for research and self-development. I also have Sonic Racing where I have wasted an incredible amount of time and brain cells. It is like all things in life….mixtures to some extent. Some good and some not so good. If we can leverage the good things and minimize the not so good, we can justify our possessions and preoccupations every time. I can say I need brainless time to take a mental health break. So my not so good becomes not so bad and I have rationalized myself into wasting another few hours, days, weeks, etc. it is sooooooo easy to do. The danger is for kids who spend more time gaming, than studying. Those hours slip away in seconds.

  31. Wale Bakare
    April 16, 2013

    @Douglas, i cant disagree with you neither William's assertion. Even consumers/users are part of this – can hardly single out one to shoulder the blame upon.

  32. Ravenwood
    April 16, 2013

    William K: “People should make sure they go to cuntryside more often,free from all their technology gadgets and enjoy the nature….” Sparky: I used to think likewise. On the weekends I'd unplug, off-line and LinkOut. But I realized temporary escapes weren't my answer. It was like going to rehab for the weekend then returning to abusive habits on Monday. I had to learn to confront my techo-vices and control them — no matter where I was.

  33. Ravenwood
    April 16, 2013

    Interesting reference. While I believe technology is evolving faster than human culture, I'm not ready to submit to Gort. Not yet. Sparky/sent from my HAL9000

  34. dalexander
    April 17, 2013

    @Klaatu…The Day the World Stood Still…1951. Would Wally and Leave-it-to-Beaver texted their friends if they had smartPhones? I think so. GORT phone home.

  35. Ariella
    April 17, 2013

    @Douglad MIT Technology Review came out with a very interesting article on robots yesterday. See  http://www.technologyreview.com/view/513761/will-robots-create-new-jobs-when-they-take-over-existing-ones/. Here's a piece of it:

    Edsinger and other robot boosters point back to previous technological revolutions to make the case that even if robots displace some workers, the overall effect on the economy and workforce will be positive. A hundred or so years ago, approximately 70 percent of U.S. workers were engaged in agriculture; the figure today is just 2 percent, Edsinger pointed out. “The tractor [was] one of the great technological disruptions,” he said. “I would be happy if we were building the John Deere of robotics in that we were disrupting how things are made but also enabling the workforce to develop in a different direction.”

    Such analogies feel reasonable, but it can be surprisingly difficult to prove that what seem like indisputable leaps forward did indeed advance the lot of workers. Robot entrepreneur Rodney Brooks, founder of iRobot and now Rethink Robotics, whose impressive Baxter robot can work alongside humans, likes to say that a new workforce of robots like his will reinvent and reinvigorate the economy just as affordable computers and IT systems did 30 years ago. But some academics, such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, say the evidence actually shows that the arrival of computers and the Internet at work have diminished the U.S. workforce and its prospects (see “How IT Costs More Jobs than It Creates”).

     

  36. dalexander
    April 17, 2013

    @Ariella…I see the validity of the argument at this present time, but there will come a crossover point where the robot workforce will begin to encroach on jobs that we presently cannot anticipate as a possibility. Artificial Intelligence will continue to take us closer to robots that can make elementary decisions. Those decisions will be the basis of “stacked” decisions where more complicated decisions can be derived in a probability/decision driven tree. Further developments will lead to possible outcome calculations that will direct the path along the decision tree that will begin to emulate human thought. Now nest the jobs that are facilitated by sequential/repetitive/methodical processes and that crossover point will become like an avalanche of job replacements staffed by robots. Japan has one robot for every 10,000 people now. Big money is being poured into robot technology development at an ever increasing rate. The Cold War between economic powers will be based upon competitiveness via robotic implementations. Driverless cars and trucks, knife wielding chicken butchering robots, robots for surgery imaging and actual operations, etc. More and more job replacements in lesser and lesser time.

  37. dalexander
    April 17, 2013

    @Ariella…make that 257 robots for every 10,000 people. I typed it right the first time but it came out “1” for some reason. Japan is the most populous robot user.

  38. Ariella
    April 18, 2013

    @Douglas yes, that's the country of origin for the Wakamaru Bot

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