Category Archives: technology

My Early Experiences With Bitcoin And Helpful Tips I’ve Uncovered

Recently, I finally took the plunge and bought some Bitcoin. I even wrote shared the experience. Overall, it wasn’t that groundbreaking. It didn’t involve a radical rethinking of how I used or thought about money. It was not that different from depositing money in a new account from an ATM. The account in this case just happened to be Bitcoin.

Since then, I’ve bought more Bitcoin. To date, I have a couple hundred bucks in my lone Bitcoin wallet. I’m still using BRD, which is one of the simplest wallets you can get. I have looked into getting others that have more features, but many of them seem to be more trouble than they’re worth.

That may change. I am quite interested in what BitPay has to offer with some of their services, but for now, I’m content to stick with BRD.

However, since I bought my Bitcoins, one issue has come up and I suspect it’s still the primary issue that most people face when they first get involved in this. It’s probably the same issue that prevents a lot of people from getting into it to begin with.

How do I spend my Bitcoins once I have them?

It’s the main issue that all these cryptocurrencies face. Getting them and securing them is challenging enough. Actually spending them like real money is still a challenge. While there are some noteworthy merchants that accept Bitcoin, most major retail outlets do not. You cannot use Bitcoin at Amazon or WalMart or even a standard grocery store just yet. Until that changes, its use will be limited.

This is what kept me from buying much of anything with my Bitcoins. Then, I discovered a useful tool that has helped make that easier and I think it’s worth sharing. While it’s true that companies like Amazon and Apple don’t accept Bitcoin directly, you can still use them. You just have to do it indirectly.

One way to do this is to use a site I found called Bitrefill. What it does is simple. You just use your Bitcoins to purchase digital gift cards for popular retail outlets. It works like this.

Step 1: Go to Bitrefill.com and browse the various gift card options, which includes the likes of Amazon and Walmart.

Step 2: Pick a gift card, choose an amount, and enter your Bitcoin account information for the desired amount, which is usually around $50 to $100.

Step 3: Complete the purchase and wait for the gift card code to come in via email. Then, just add the amount to your existing account.

For those who buy most of their stuff on Amazon, this is a quick way to turn your Bitcoins into something spendable. There are a few other workarounds, like Moon and Purse.io, but I’ve found this to be the easiest. There’s even a similar website called CoinsBee that allows you to do the same to your Apple iTunes account.

Basically, if you know how to send or spend gift cards, you can spend Bitcoin. Does it require a few extra steps from traditional cash? Yes, it does, but you can still spend it.

That may still raise the question as to why bother with Bitcoin in the first place. If it’s just adding an extra step between you and the retailers you prefer, then what’s the point? Well, this is where I’d like to share another part of my Bitcoin experience.

After buying my first batch, the price went up. I don’t know why, but it did. Suddenly, the first hundred bucks I put in was worth $125. That was great. It was downright thrilling. Granted, it did go down to around $103, but it was still impactful in a major way.

That’s because Bitcoin, unlike traditional money, fluctuates in value. Many see it as a reason why they don’t buy in. It’s just too volatile. I can understand that, but I also understand the impact of inflation.

If you go to your bank account right now and look at your money, you won’t see it change much in terms of value. However, inflation does ensure that its value goes down. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just basic economics. Over time, most fiat currency loses value. That has been the trend for nearly a century.

With Bitcoin, it fluctuates. One day, it has more value. The other, it has less. You’ll win on some days, but lose with others. With regular cash, though, you always lose. You don’t lose nearly as much. Most of the time, it happens so slowly that you don’t even notice. Even so, losing is still losing.

The Bitcoins I have now may only be worth a few hundred bucks. By this time next year, they could be worth a lot more. That’s even more money I can convert to Amazon or WalMart gift cards. There’s also a chance the price could crash, as it has before, but given the finite nature of Bitcoin, there’s more incentive for its value to increase rather than decrease.

That doesn’t mean its value will always go up. There’s still a non-zero chance that Bitcoin’s value could stall or outright collapse, as other currencies have in the past. That’s why I’m not converting all my money into Bitcoin anytime soon.

For the time being, though, I’m satisfied and encouraged by my Bitcoin experience. I also encourage others to get into it as well, if only to get a feel for it. Hopefully, the sites I’ve listed here will help you get some use out of your Bitcoins. Money is a powerful force in this world. So long as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies keep operating as such, they’ll have a part in our future. Now is as good a time as any to carve your place in that future.

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Filed under Bitcoin, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology

Why I Don’t Miss Blockbuster Video (For The Most Part)

Everyone has something they’re nostalgic for. There’s nothing wrong with that, for the most part. There are some people nostalgic for the kind of things that require massive social regression that would do immense harm to every marginalized minority you can think of. That kind of nostalgia isn’t healthy. It’s just for entitled assholes.

For me, personally, my nostalgia is pretty limited. I have a soft spot for old school Saturday morning cartoons. They made waking up early on the weekends fun. I’m also nostalgic for a time when the only people trying to cancel stuff were uptight conservative Christians who opposed anything fun, new, or sexy

It almost seems quaint now. I think many of us still long for the days when everything didn’t have a political agenda or bias. It’s getting to a point where it’s hard to remember a time when politics wasn’t so damn tribal. I miss those days too.

However, I don’t want to focus too much on the things I miss. Instead, I want to highlight something that I honestly don’t miss for the most part, but it’s something a lot of people have fond memories over.

That something is Blockbuster video.

Now, most people over the age of 30 remember Blockbuster video. I certainly remember it. In fact, it was once a regular ritual for my dad to take us all to Blockbuster on Friday evening to rent a movie. At one point, I lived within walking distance of a Blockbuster. Those were good times.

Those times eventually came to an end. Blockbuster’s rise and fall from its position as an institution of the movie business is relatively well-documented. It’s also well-known that there was a point where Blockbuster could’ve bought Netflix for just $50 million, but chose not to.

That choice has since gone down in infamy as one of the dumbest decisions in the history of business. To understand just how dumb it was, Netflix as of this writing is worth over $30 billion. Take a moment to appreciate just how much history changed with that fateful choice.

At the same time, there are people out there still nostalgic for Blockbuster. Recently, there was even a mini-documentary on the last Blockbuster video in operation in Bend, Oregon. Fittingly enough, that documentary is on Netflix.

Having watched that documentary recently, I found myself thinking back to those times I mentioned earlier. I also thought about how the stories that people in the documentary told about going to Blockbuster or video stores, in general. They remembered it so fondly. When they visited the last Blockbuster, they looked downright enamored.

I can’t say I blame them. It probably took them back to a time in their lives that they remember fondly. I can certainly appreciate that.

At the same time, I can’t avoid one simple fact.

I really don’t miss Blockbuster that much.

That’s not to denigrate the people who do or the experiences I had in my youth. When I look back on Blockbuster in its totality, both in terms of the good times and the not-so-good times, I just don’t miss it. As a hub for movies, it had its place at a certain point in time. That time has long past and I’d rather not go back.

As much as I enjoyed browsing movie racks and chatting it up with the people who worked at Blockbuster, I can’t overlook the shortcomings. There were plenty of times in which I really wanted to see a particular movie, but there were just no copies available. That happened constantly with certain shows I followed closely. It got to a point where I just stopped trying.

Then, there were the late fees.

I promise that nobody misses the late fees.

I recall more than one occasion where my parents scolded me and my siblings for not returning a movie on time. Even without inflation, those fees really added up. They were a constant point of frustration and I really don’t miss having to deal with them.

There were still parts of the Blockbuster experience that I enjoyed. The stores themselves were great to be in. My brother and I spent a lot of time losing ourselves in that store. While it was nice to just come across some obscure movie or game every now and then, I feel like that was the exception rather than the norm.

Since I got Netflix, I find it a lot easier to come across some obscure movie I’ve never seen or heard of. Last Halloween, I spent an entire afternoon just browsing the Horror section of Netflix and found several movies that I probably couldn’t have found in a Blockbuster. It was a great experience.

I don’t deny that Netflix is a lot more impersonal. There’s none of that social aspect you get by visiting a Blockbuster store. That certainly had its moments, but I feel like other social spaces have more than compensated, at least for me.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Blockbuster for making Friday nights more fun with my family. I’ll always remember that distinct smell of buttered popcorn that every Blockbuster seemed to have. Beyond that, though, I’m not all that nostalgic for it. Blockbuster had a good run. It just didn’t adapt to changing times. That being said, just imagine how different the world would be if they had bought Netflix.

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Filed under Current Events, movies, rants, real stories, technology, television

Updates, Previews, And Mishaps With My New Video Editing Software

Learning new skills can be difficult. That difficulty only compounds when you try to teach yourself. I know it’s cliché, but anything worth learning tends to be difficult. When it’s part of a genuine passion, however, it can even more rewarding. You just have to be ready to endure some setbacks and frustration.

I bring this up because recently, I announced that I had purchased a new PC with my stimulus check. Alongside that purchase, I also bought a new video editing software, Adobe Premier Elements 2021. While getting the new PC up and running was mostly a formality, learning to use this new software was bound to be challenging. I just didn’t expect it to be this challenging.

The thing is I knew I had to get new video editing the second I decided to buy a new PC. The software I’d been using on my old PC, Movie Maker 2012, wasn’t just limited. It had been discontinued. When it came to getting my YouTube channel, Jack’s World, off the ground, it got the job done. However, if you’ve seen some of my early videos, you can tell the quality was not that great.

I did what I could to make up for the software’s limitations. That included purchasing a new microphone and modifying a few images. The plan was always to upgrade to something better and, having done some research on what other successful YouTubers use, I went all in on Adobe Premier Elements 2021.

Now, after spending an entire weekend, plus a few days, just learning the basics of the system, I now realize I have a long way to go. To be perfectly honest, I overestimated the complexity of basic video editing. Everything from making proper transitions to inserting the right text to adjusting music volume has proven incredibly challenging.

I got stuck on several major issues. Most of them involved panning around certain images and getting the right text graphics in place. It took nearly an entire afternoon just to figure out how properly time each image or video. I eventually figured it out, but only after messing up at least a dozen times.

I’d hoped I could get by with the basics for a while before moving onto more complex features. I now know that was hoping for too much. My goal was to use this software to make one 20-mintue video, just to get a feel for how long it would take. I managed to complete that video, but it’s taking me a lot longer and I’m still getting the hang of numerous features.

As a result, I’m going to use the old software to complete a batch of videos that were already in progress before I bought my new PC. You’ll be able to tell by the graphics and panning which videos were made with the old software. This one video I made with Premier, though, will look different. It won’t be completely obvious, but the signs will be there. If it looks a little messy, then assume it’s due to me struggling with certain functions.

I hope to post that video soon, as it covers a fairly timely topic. Yes, that topic involves superhero movies and X-Men. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. After that, any new video that I didn’t start with the old software will use Premier. In time, I hope it makes a difference in terms of quality and visuals. If you’re not seeing that improvement, please let me know so I can keep working at it.

In the meantime, to all those out there who are also struggling with using Adobe Premier Elements 2021, consider checking out some free tutorial videos. I found this one below to be particularly helpful.

I ended up referencing this, and a few others, many times whenever I got stuck, which was frequent. In hindsight, I probably should’ve referenced these videos sooner. They probably would’ve saved me a lot of frustration.

Then again, that’s the price you pay when you try to learn a new skill by teaching yourself. I’m not a very good teacher in that respect, but if I can do this, then anyone can. Video editing is definitely a skill worth learning and one that’s sure to become more critical in the future.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Jack's World, technology, YouTube

An Artificial Intelligence That Can Debate: The Promise And The Perils

Even in an era as divided and chaotic as this, there’s still a place for reasonable debate on important issues.

Yes, I understand it’s hard to say that with a straight face these days.

Yes, I’ve been to comments sections, Reddit, and 4chan.

Yes, I know how ugly the discourse is right now, but that’s exactly why I’m bringing this up.

In general, people are curious. Even though they cling to cherished beliefs and refuse to change their minds when confronted with evidence, we’re still curious about things that are different. It’s not always honest, but it’s a powerful feeling. Even if you despise those on the other side of the debate, a part of you will still wonder why they hold the opinions they have.

That’s why debate is such a powerful tool. Humans are such a social species by nature. We’re hard-wired to interact, connect, and discuss things with one another, even when we don’t agree. It may frustrate us to no end, as anyone who has debated a creationist can attest. However, the fact we keep doing it is proof, in my opinion, that there’s still value in the process.

Regardless of how you feel about the merit and value of debating, the whole process might become more complicated in the near future. That’s because IBM, the same company behind Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer, just created an artificial intelligence that can debate at the same level as a skilled human debater.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece in TechXplore on this new system. It’s not as scary as some of the things we’ve seen from Boston Dynamics lately, but it’s still intriguing.

TechXplore: IBM’s AI debating system able to compete with expert human debaters

IBM has developed an artificial intelligence-based system designed to engage in debates with humans. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team members describe their system and how well it performed when pitted against human opponents. Chris Reed with the University of Dundee has published a News & Views piece in the same journal issue outlining the history and development of AI technology based around the types of logic used in human arguments and the new system developed by IBM.

As Reed notes, debating is a skill humans have been honing for thousands of years. It is generally considered to be a type of discussion in which one or more people attempt to persuade others that their opinion on a topic is right. In this new effort, the team at IBM has created an AI system designed to debate with humans in a live setting. It listens to moderators and opponents and responds in a female voice.

Now, before you get too nervous, it’s worth noting that this AI is far from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence systems I’ve mentioned before. This is not the kind of AI that will become Skynet or Hal 9000, no more so than Watson or AlphaGo. This is a system is very much a narrow AI, as in it’s made to excel at a specific task.

We have AI’s that can beat world class chess players and Jeopardy champions. This AI just happens to excel at debate. However, that has implications that go beyond simply outclassing the best human debaters in the world at the moment. In fact, this is one form of AI that might not need human-level intelligence to incur a major impact.

Take a moment to think about how erratic and inconsistent most debates are. No matter how intelligent or informed you are, it tends to get messy fast. That’s why so many comments sections and Reddit threads devolve into shouting matches and personal attacks. The end result is people becoming more angry and unreasonable, which can have major real-world consequences.

However, what would happen if every debate on any issue included someone who was better than the best debater on the planet? Even if the two people on each side of the debate were dumb and inept, such a presence would have a major impact on the discourse.

That’s because winning a debate has little to do with how well someone knows a particular subject. It also has little to do with how forcefully and clearly someone explains a topic. Again, people who debate creationists know this all too well. Winning a debate doesn’t mean proving your expertise. It means proving the merit of your argument.

An AI that can do that may not convince someone that they’re wrong about something. However, losing a debate tends to have a lasting impact. Just ask any aspiring politician. It can also lead people to question their beliefs, even if they still cling to them. That, alone, can be powerful.

For proof, look no further than the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the infamously hateful and dogmatic Westboro Baptist Church. She was as locked into her beliefs as anyone could possibly be. She was raised by religious zealots and indoctrinated into strict religious dogma from the time she was a child. She’s not someone whose mind is prone to change.

Then, she got into a discussion with someone on Twitter of all places. That person began a conversation. It started as a nasty debate, but it evolved into something that led her to question her beliefs. Ultimately, she left that hateful and bigoted environment. She’s now an activist against the same religiously motivated hate that she once fostered.

It’s a powerful story, but one that couldn’t have happened without a debate. To date, people have only been able to have those debates with other people. Not everyone is equally skilled. In fact, I would argue most people are woefully unskilled at debating anything and I include myself in that category. I am not good at it, either. I freely admit that.

Now, there’s an AI system that can theoretically win any debate the same way other systems can defeat any chess player. That does hold promise if it can be used to temper the heated rhetoric that has caused real-life hostilities. At the same time, there are reasons for concern.

What side would this system be on?

Moreover, who decides what position these AI systems take?

If no one decides, then how does the AI determine which side on a debate it takes?

These are relevant questions because if you have an AI that can win any debate, then the side it takes really matters. That can be used for good when countering dangerous disinformation, like those from the antivaxx crowd or hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. Like any tool, though, it can be weaponized for ill.

I can easily imagine political organizations getting a hold of these systems and trying to use them to benefit their agenda. I can also see some trying to use it to spam message boards, social media, and Reddit threads to derail certain movements or arguments. That’s a powerful tool and we can’t be certain that those using it will use it responsibly. That’s the dilemma with all technology. It can be used for good and for evil. With technology like artificial intelligence, the stakes are a lot higher, as are the perils. This technology may not be as dangerous as a more advanced AI, but it could be a precursor to just how disruptive this technology can be.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

Update On New PC And New Video Editing Software (Courtesy Of My Stimulus Check)

A while back, I talked about what I planned to do with my next (and probably last) stimulus check. I recounted how my previous stimulus checks went primarily to paying down some credit card debt and completing some overdue repairs on my car. This time, I wanted to use my stimulus money on something bigger and bolder.

That’s why I decided to put it towards a new PC. I’d been using the same computer for over five years and it was starting to show its age. It was very slow booting up and started crashing constantly in frustrating ways. The time was right for an upgrade.

Well, I can now confirm that this plan I laid out is complete. This piece that you’re reading right now was written on my new PC and, without getting too deep into the specs or cost, I can already confirm that this was a great use of that stimulus money. It might end up being the best way I could’ve sent it.

That’s because, traditionally, when I buy a new PC, I don’t get the most expensive model. I tend to get something that’s relatively modest or mid-tier. I don’t think I’ve spent more than $1,000 on a PC or laptop in my life.

That changed with this PC. I won’t give an exact price, but I won’t say I bought the most expensive model either. I’ll just say I spent more than $1,000 on this machine and that old adage of you get what you pay for has never been more true.

The speed and efficiency of this new computer astounds me. I was genuinely surprised at how quickly it booted itself up and updated itself. Even though it still took a while to transfer all my files and programs to it, the speed difference is night and day compared to my old PC.

Some of that is just because of better hardware, but I suspect most of it is due to this computer having a solid-state hard drive instead of a traditional disk drive. For those not savvy on computer hardware, solid-state drives are the same drives you have in most tablets and smartphones. They have no moving parts and are much faster, but tend to have less space.

It’s a bit of a trade-off, but one I make gladly. In addition to being fast, this machine is almost eerily quiet. With my old machine, I could hear it humming from across the room. This one is so quiet that I’m not sure it’s even on when it’s in sleep mode. It’s that quiet. Based on what I’ve see so far, I don’t think I can ever go back to a traditional hard disk.

However, I didn’t just stop at getting a new PC. While I spent most of my stimulus check on the main unit, I used what was left to purchase something that I hope will be equally valuable. It involves new video editing software.

If you’ve been following my YouTube channel, Jack’s World, you’re probably aware that the quality is a bit limited. That’s mostly a byproduct of me being very new to video creation and having limited equipment. The video editing software I’ve used thus far has been a version of Microsoft Movie Maker that’s no longer being updated. If I want the quality of my videos to improve, I needed better software.

So, after consulting with some people much smarter than me in this field, I went out and purchased a copy of Adobe Premier Elements 2021. This is the software that most successful YouTubers use in some form or another. It’s very new to me. I’ve only started learning about its functionality and interface, but I’ve every intention of using it to make better videos.

For now, expect the next crop of videos to use the old software. When I finally get around to using Premier, I hope the difference will be clear. Along with the new hardware I have on this PC, I hope it leads to a major uptick in the quality of my videos. If it does, then that stimulus money will prove even more valuable.

I’m not expecting more stimulus money at this point. However, I’m already quite pleased with the purchases I’ve made. I hope others are able to make equally fruitful purchases. If you have any other stories about what you did with your stimulus money, please share them in the comments. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some awesome videos to with newer, better tools.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Jack's World, technology

What Keeps Bitcoin From Being A (Bigger) Part Of Our Future

I consider myself an enthusiast of technology. On many occasions, I’ve wildly speculated about emerging technology and expressed unapologetic excitement about certain trends. In general, I have the utmost respect and support for those who share this passion. I don’t always agree with their outlook or speculation, but I get where they’re coming from.

Then, there are Bitcoin enthusiasts. I’ll just come out and say I have mixed feelings about them.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to diminish what a remarkable technology Bitcoin is. It is a complicated and, at times, confusing technology. Even the Wikipedia page only does so much to explain what it is, where it came from, and why it matters. That’s not surprising. There was plenty of confusion about the internet too when it first emerged.

While I don’t consider myself an enthusiast, Bitcoin has sparked my curiosity. I do sometimes look into major news stories and developments surrounding the technology. The fact that it has lasted over a decade and made some people legitimate millionaires is proof enough that Bitcoin has real, tangible value. Those who keep saying that Bitcoin is just a fad or will crash are becoming increasingly scarce.

I’m convinced that Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies like it, are here to stay. They’ve proven that they have value in an increasingly digital landscape. As the internet becomes more prevalent and accessible, their role will only grow. That being said, I’m not yet convinced Bitcoin’s role will go beyond a certain point.

Those who say Bitcoin is the future of money are likely talking in hyperbole.

Those who say Bitcoin and the blockchain are the most revolutionary technologies since email are also likely exaggerating.

I don’t doubt for a second that these people believe in what they’re saying. I just haven’t seen enough to warrant that kind of enthusiasm. The issue isn’t as much about the merits of the technology as it is about how it’s being used. I’m not just referring to its role in the illegal drug trade, either.

At the moment, Bitcoin is fairly accessible. If you have a smartphone and an internet connection, you can download a simple wallet for free. If you do a quick search for a Bitcoin ATM, you can purchase Bitcoins with the same ease you would when purchasing a gift card. It’s what you do after that where the issues arise.

What exactly can you buy with Bitcoin that you can’t buy more easily through other means? That’s not me being facetious. This is where I tend to diverge with Bitcoin enthusiasts. I understand that some major ecommerce sites accept Bitcoin, namely Overstock. I’m also aware that more and more retailers are accepting Bitcoin.

However, the only ones taking advantage of that option are those who go out of their way to use Bitcoin. For most people, especially those who aren’t as tech savvy, there just aren’t enough benefits to warrant the extra effort. On top of that, Bitcoin does have some lingering flaws that are hard to work around. Then again, you can say the same thing about traditional money.

None of that even begins to highlight the growing issues associated with mining Bitcoins.

Now, that could change. It’s not a certainty, but it is a possibility. Like any new tech, the issue isn’t always about whether or not it works. Bitcoin clearly works and it’s been working for nearly a decade. It’s whether or not there’s a “killer app” to entice ordinary people to go through the effort of learning about, acquiring, and using Bitcoin.

The problem is that, thanks to incidents like the Silk Road, the primary use of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies like it have been for the purchase of drugs or other illicit services. Regardless of how you feel about the politics surrounding illegal drugs and services, that’s the reputation Bitcoin has. It’s just a way for criminals and their cohorts to operate.

That’s not a killer app. It’s also not sustainable.

In order for Bitcoin to play a bigger part in our future, it needs to have a good, meaningful use. It took cell phones decades to find that. Just being able to make phone calls, remember phone numbers, and occasionally host a game of solitaire wasn’t enough. Other apps like music, video chatting, and cameras had to get into the mix before the public and the market embraced them.

That’s what Bitcoin needs. I don’t claim to know what that entails. I think Bitcoin has to get to a point where using it is as simple as using a credit card or debit card. It also needs a particular use or product that will justify the physical and financial investment. That use also can’t be illegal. It’s no secret that the internet owes much of its early growth to the porn industry, but porn isn’t illegal.

Bitcoin, in my opinion, will need something bigger than porn. It might also need to wait until more parts of the world are connected to broadband internet. Maybe it involves voting, enforcing contracts, or the development of new peer-to-peer networks, such as Open Bazaar. I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to figure it out at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ll certainly keep an eye on Bitcoin. I don’t deny it has its uses in the current world. It’s just too limited right now. Whether it has a large or small role in the future that awaits us remains to be seen.

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Artificial Intelligence Is Struggling With Racism (And The Larger Implications)

There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the world. Its potential is so vast that some even say it will be mankind’s last invention. Once it gets to a certain point, it won’t just be better at everything humans do. It may very well supplant humanity as the dominant life form on this planet. There are no shortage of movies that depict how dire that could be.

That said, it’s bound to go through some growing pains. Not all of those pains will involve a Skynet-level malfunction, but they will warrant concern.

At the moment, our artificial intelligence is still limited. It’s not dumb, but it’s very limited. It can do certain tasks very well, like play chess or win Jeopardy. It can’t apply that intelligence at a broader macro level like a human.

That still makes them useful and they’re still advancing rapidly. Artificial intelligence programs are used frequently for tasks like moderating comments sections and tracking sales data. The problem with these programs is that, since the AI is not generally intelligent, humans have to fill in the gaps. Since humans are flawed and bias, those traits sometimes find their way into the AI.

That’s what happened recently with YouTube’s comment moderation algorithms. As an aspiring YouTuber, I know how imperfect those algorithms can be. The intentions are noble. These AI programs are supposed to curtail hate speech. The internet needs that right now. Anyone who has ever visited 4chan knows that.

However, sometimes the AI systems are so narrow that they don’t ese the forest from the trees. That’s what happened recently when those systems mistook discussions about chess for racist language. Tech Xplore did an article on it and while it’s somewhat humorous on the surface, it’s also quite revealing.

Tech Xplore: AI May Mistake Chess Discussions as Racist Talk

“The Queen’s Gambit,” the recent TV mini-series about a chess master, may have stirred increased interest in chess, but a word to the wise: social media talk about game-piece colors could lead to misunderstandings, at least for hate-speech detection software.

That’s what a pair of Carnegie Mellon University researchers suspect happened to Antonio Radic, or “agadmator,” a Croatian chess player who hosts a popular YouTube channel. Last June, his account was blocked for “harmful and dangerous” content.

YouTube never provided an explanation and reinstated the channel within 24 hours, said Ashiqur R. KhudaBukhsh a project scientist in CMU’s Language Technologies Institute (LTI). It’s nevertheless possible that “black vs. white” talk during Radi?’s interview with Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura triggered software that automatically detects racist language, he suggested.

Now, should we be concerned? Is it worrying that an AI with the backing of Google couldn’t surmise that simple terms like “black vs. white” were referring to chess and not race relations?

The short answer is not really.

The longer answer is not really, but we should learn important lessons from this.

The AI systems that moderate YouTube comments are nowhere near the kinds of systems we’d see in an artificial general intelligence. It’s like comparing a steam engine to a modern rocket. That said, we had to learn how to make a damn good steam engine before we could learn to make a decent rocket.

With something like advanced artificial intelligence, the margin for error is very small. You could even argue there is no margin for error. That’s why so many worry that such an AI could be an existential threat to humanity. If its too flawed to understand the difference between chess and racist rhetoric, then we could be in serious trouble.

The problem, in this case, isn’t with the nature of the AI. It’s with us, its creators. Since we humans are so flawed, racism being one of our worst flaws, it’s understandable that this sort of thing would find its way into our programming. It already has in a number of fields.

Again, those types of systems are limited and narrow. There’s a lot of room for human flaws to enter the system.

With advanced AI, those flaws could end up being extremely damaging. If too many of them find their way into a more advanced AI, we wouldn’t end up with a helpful, usable system. We’d end up with something like Skynet or Ultron. At that point, we’d be in serious trouble and we wouldn’t be able to rely on John Conner or the Avengers to save us.

We still have time. This latest issue with YouTube’s algorithms is minor, in the grand scheme of things, and fairly easy to correct. Once we get around to creating more advanced systems, though, we need to be aware of these flaws. We need to remember that any advanced AI we create will reflect our best and worst qualities. Let’s make sure our best win out in the long run.

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Thought Experiment: When Does Technology Make Us Non-Human?

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores another thought experiment about technology and how it’s affecting us, as a species. I’ve covered this sort of thing before and the implications. I’m looking to see if there’s an audience for this on my channel. Enjoy!

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, human nature, Jack's World, technology, Thought Experiment, YouTube

The First CRISPR Patients Are Living Better: Why That Matters After 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about CRISPR, biotechnology, and the prospect of ordinary people enhancing their biology in ways straight out of a comic book. In my defense, this past year has created plenty of distractions. Some have been so bad that my usual optimism of the future has been seriously damaged.

While my spirit is wounded, I still have hope that science and technology will continue to progress. If anything, it’ll progress with more urgency after this year. A great many fields are bound to get more attention and investment after the damage done by a global pandemic.

We can’t agree on much, but we can at least agree on this. Pandemics are bad for business, bad for people, bad for politics, and just objectively awful for everyone all around, no matter what their station is in life.

There’s a lot of incentive to ensure something like this never happens again is what I’m saying. While we’re still a long way from ending pandemics entirely, we already have tools that can help in that effort. One is CRISPR, a promising tool I’ve talked about in the past. While it wasn’t in a position to help us during this pandemic, research into refining it hasn’t stopped.

Despite all the awful health news of this past year, some new research has brought us some promising results on the CRISPR front. In terms of actually treading real people who have real conditions, those results are in and they give us reason to hope.

One such effort involved using CRISPR to help treat people with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic condition that hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It affects over 4 million people worldwide and often leads to significant complications that can be fatal.

Since CRISPR is all about tweaking genetics, it’s a perfect mechanism with which to develop new therapies. Multiple patients have undergone experimental treatments that utilize this technology. In a report form NPR, the results are exceeding expectations for all the right reasons.

NPR: First Patients To Get CRISPR Gene-Editing Treatment Continue To Thrive

At a recent meeting of the American Society for Hematology, researchers reported the latest results from the first 10 patients treated via the technique in a research study, including Gray, two other sickle cell patients and seven patients with a related blood disorder, beta thalassemia. The patients now have been followed for between three and 18 months.

All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.

The New England Journal of Medicine published online this month the first peer-reviewed research paper from the study, focusing on Gray and the first beta thalassemia patient who was treated.

“I’m very excited to see these results,” says Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize this year for her role in the development of CRISPR. “Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”

Make no mistake. This is objectively good news and not just for people suffering from sickle cell disease.

Whenever new medical advances emerge, there’s often a wide gap between developing new treatments and actually implementing them in a way that makes them as commonplace as getting a prescription. The human body is complex. Every individual’s health is different. Taking a treatment from the lab to a patient is among the biggest challenge in medical research.

This news makes it official. CRISPR has made that leap. The possible treatments aren’t just possibilities anymore. There are real people walking this planet who have received this treatment and are benefiting because of it. Victoria Gray, as referenced in the article, is just one of them.

That’s another critical threshold in the development of new technology. When it goes beyond just managing a condition to helping people thrive, then it becomes more than just a breakthrough. It becomes an opportunity.

It sends a message to doctors, researchers, and biotech companies that this technology works. Some of those amazing possibilities that people like to envision aren’t just dreams anymore. They’re manifesting before our eyes. This is just one part of it. If it works for people with Sickle Cell Disease, what other conditions could it treat?

I doubt I’m the first to ask that question. As I write this, there are people far smarter and more qualified than me using CRISPR to develop a whole host of new treatments. After a year like 2020, everyone is more aware of their health. They’re also more aware of why science and medicine matter. It can do more than just save our lives. It can help us thrive.

We learned many hard lessons in 2020, especially when it comes to our health. Let’s not forget those lessons as we look to the future. This technology is just one of many that could help us prosper in ways not possible in previous years. We cheered those who developed the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s start cheering those working on new treatments with CRISPR.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, futurism, health, technology

Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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