Tag Archives: computers

Thought Experiment: What Major Decisions Would You Trust An Artificial Intelligence To Make For You?

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is a thought experiment about artificial intelligence, the choices we make, and how much (or how little) we’ll delegate such choices in the future. Enjoy!

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Jack's World, psychology, technology, YouTube

To Anyone Who Wants To Avoid Getting Hacked: Use Two-Factor Authentication (And Set It Up Now)

How to Secure Your Apple Account with Two-Factor Authentication

The internet is a vast, crazy place. It’s full of wonders and horrors. It offers a wealth of knowledge, as well as an endless stream is lies, scams, and misinformation. You’ll wonderful, disturbing, beautiful, yet perverse place. You can meet all sorts of amazing people online, but you can also encounter some of the weirdest, creepiest individuals on the face of this planet.

The internet is remarkable, yet chaotic is what I’m saying. The same could be said for cars and highways. That’s why you wear seatbelts and make sure your side has airbags. That way, if something does go wrong, you have something in place that can save you.

In that same spirit, I’d like to offer an important bit of advice to anyone who uses a computer and regularly accesses the internet, which is increasing with each passing day mind you. It has to do with security, a topic that has become a lot more relevant in recent years.

It wasn’t that long ago that a single cyberattack shut down a critical pipeline that disrupted fuel supplies for the entire eastern United States. However, I feel like people have already forgotten about that incident and the lessons it had to offer.

There are a lot of things to be said about that attack and why it was successful. However, much of it came back to poor cyber security practices. That included little practices like not logging out of a secure network, using easily-guessed passwords, or using the same password for multiple logins. As more and more of our lives go online, these practices will become increasingly damaging.

I know this because I too have been guilty of doing this. Just recently, I had a few security scares for some email accounts that I still use. I didn’t make a big deal about it at first. Then, I realized just how much sensitive information I had in these accounts and I needed to be more careful.

That’s why I immediately activated two-factor authentication.

That’s also why you should activate it too.

No matter how small or large your presence is online, I cannot recommend utilizing this feature enough. Do it for your email accounts. Do it for your social media accounts. Do it for your online shopping accounts. You don’t have to do it for everything, but if you have the option, definitely take advantage of it.

It’s not that hard to utilize. If you have a cell phone that can receive texts, you can use it. Yes, it is an extra step to log in. You have to both enter a password and a code that’s sent to your cell phone. It’s a bit more tedious, but it assures that, even if someone steals your password, they still can’t log in without your phone. It’s not perfect security, but it makes a big difference.

The security at the Colonial Pipeline facility didn’t utilize it. A majority of companies don’t utilize it on a large scale. There are some legitimate reasons for that, but most people don’t use it because it’s inconvenient. It’s another step on top of having to remember a password. Some people just don’t like that.

I get it, but I also get the risks of being hacked or losing your data. If you have a choice between being slightly more inconvenienced or losing critical data, then the choice should be clear. Endure that little bit of inconvenience. It’ll protect you, your data, your money, your identity, and so much more.

I had a bit of a cyber scare recently and while I was able to fix it before anything happened, I made sure I was more proactive. Trust me. You don’t want to learn the hard way why you should utilize extra layers of security whenever you’re online.

I’ll say it again. If you can activate two-factor authentication for any or all your accounts, do it. You’ll spare yourself plenty of stress and frustration. The internet is still an amazing place, but it can be dangerous. Your password is just a seatbelt. Two-factor authentication is an airbag. Your odds of being safe are much better when you can rely on both.

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Filed under Current Events, rants, technology

In Honor Of Pride Month: A Tribute To Alan Turing (The Man Who Decoded The Future)

Life of Alan Turing, Code-Breaking Computer Scientist

I’m a straight male. I don’t deny that. I’m also a strong proponent of LGBTQ rights and will gladly side with them against all those who would undermine, alienate, or denigrate that community. In honor of Pride Month, I’d like to make that clearly and proudly.

At the same time, being a straight male means I can only do so much to understand the plight of LGBTQ individuals. I can never fully understand the feelings they feel or the thoughts they think as they live their lives in a world that’s still very hostile to them. Even though I have close relatives who are openly gay, my perspective is still limited.

Having said all that, I’d like to make another small contribution to Pride Month 2021. It’s not much, but it’s something I hope adds to the greater perspective of others, regardless of their orientation. During times like this, that perspective is more important than other.

Like it or not, our lives have been profoundly affected by people who identify as LGBTQ. You may not realize it, but you wouldn’t even be able to read this, nor would I be able to share it, were it not for one prominent member of the LGBTQ community.

His name is Alan Turing. He’s the reason why we know how to make the computer or smartphone you’re using right now. He may also be the reason why some of us aren’t saluting a Nazi flag.

The life of Mr. Turing may have been tragic in many respects, especially towards the end, but few men have affected the modern world more than him. He was more than just a brilliant mathematician, computer scientist, and philosopher. He practically laid the foundation for our modern world through his work.

The fact that he was a gay man living in an era where being gay was considered a mental illness only makes these accomplishment more remarkable. However, his sexuality was still often secondary to his brilliance.

Alan Turing had a genuine gift for math and science. That gift earned him diplomas from universities like Cambridge and Princeton. It also earned him a role at Bletchley Park during Word War II, the home of Britain’s efforts to break the seemingly unbreakable German Enigma Code. It’s not unreasonable to say that this effort wouldn’t have succeeded without Alan Turing.

You also don’t need to be an expert in alternative history to know that breaking the Enigma Code played a big part in ensuring World War II ended the way it did. Even if you believe the Allies were always going to win, that victory came sooner and saved more lives because of Turing’s role in breaking that code.

The breadth and details of that effort are vast. It would take too long to go over everything he did to help the Allies in World War II. Thankfully, others with more expertise than me have done so. Check out this YouTube video to get a better feel for how Turing did what he did in cracking Enigma.

It’s also through that same effort that he laid the foundations for modern computing. He is largely credited with creating the fundamental structure of things like algorithms and computation. He may not have built the first modern computer, but he created the model by which all future computers were built.

Without Alan Turing, computer technology would not be where it is today.

Without Alan Turing, the internet as we know it would not exist.

Without Alan Turing, the modern world as we know it simply would not be possible.

That’s a hell of an accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone who was gay. It is a great tragedy that Turing had to spend most of his life hiding his sexuality. He did marry a woman who knew his secret, but that was only a cover. He still had to live a lie day after day for most of his life.

It only came crashing down in 1952 when Turing was arrested in Manchester for the “indecency” of admitting to a sexual relationship with another man. As a result, Turing lost his various security clearances. All that work he’d done to help the world was suddenly an afterthought. On top of that, he was forced to take hormones to “treat” his desires.

I put “treat” in quotes because what this did to him was nothing short of unconscionable. I won’t go into the disturbing details. I’ll just say that this “treatment” played a major role in him eventually taking his own life in 1954. It was a sad end to the life of a man who gave us so much through his brilliance and his work.

Now, to be fair, the British Government did eventually apologize for the role it played in destroying Alan Turing’s life. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until 2009. I’d usually say better late than never, but that’s really pushing it.

It’s hard to say how much we lost because Alan Turing’s life was cut short. Who knows where we would be if he hadn’t been persecuted because of his sexuality? Even if we ended up at the same place, Turing deserved better. This is a man who served his country and contributed immensely to the knowledge of mankind, only to be ruined by bigotry.

How many other brilliant men and women suffered a similar fate?

How many of those individuals had something to contribute to mankind, but never got the chance?

How many had to live their entire lives hiding this part of themselves, suffering in silence out of fear of enduring a fate like Turing’s?

We can never know the answer to those questions. The answers are probably as distressing as they are tragic.

If nothing else, the story of Alan Turing should give us pause in how we see the past, present, and future of LGBTQ struggles. It’s true that we’ve made a great deal of progress since the days of Alan Turing. In more recent years, awareness surrounding the struggles and accomplishments of men like Turing has grown.

There are still challenges to overcome and we should be ready and willing to face those challenges. Despite how it ended, the life and accomplishments of Alan Turing should inspire us to do better. The fact we can make those efforts through the very machines he helped create is a fitting tribute. So, in honor of Pride Month 2021, let us take a moment to remember and celebrate the life of Alan Turing. He contributed immensely to our modern world, despite living at a time when his very identity was criminal. That’s an accomplishment and a strength that’s worthy of pride.

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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, technology

Turning Thoughts Into Images: A New Era Of Art With Brain/Computer Interface

BCI Technology: How does a Brain-Computer Interface Work?

There are any number of skills you can learn, practice, and eventually master. I highly encourage everyone to do to this, whether it involves computer programming, cooking, crafts, or any other hobby. You may not always like or master them, but they’re still fun and rewarding to try.

For some skills, though, no amount of learning or practice will help you master them or even be competent. Some things just take talent. That’s why only a handful of human beings ever become Olympic athletes, professional quarterbacks, or brain surgeons. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need that kind of diverse skill set, as a species.

I consider myself to be good, if not above-average, at a number of skills. I’ve learned plenty over the years and there are some that I just have a knack for more than others. I like to think writing is one of them. However, there’s one particular skill that I just have absolutely zero talent for and it’s something that has bugged me for years.

That skill is drawing.

Please understand that this is somewhat personal for me. I’ve always had an artistic side, but for reasons I can’t quite grasp, I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. I’ve taken art classes in school. I’ve tried practicing here and there. It just never works. I can barely draw stick figures, let alone an image of a typical person that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a five-year-old.

Some of that actually runs in my family. Quite a few relatives can attest that they can’t draw, either. At the same time, an unusually high number of relatives are good writers, poets, etc. We’re all great with words, for the most part. That’s a talent that seems to get passed down, but we just can’t turn those words into pictures.

For me, that’s kind of frustrating. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. For a time, I wanted to be a comic book writer, but I learned quickly that’s next to impossible when you can’t draw. There are also times when I wish I could draw well enough to describe a scene from a story. I just don’t have that talent or that skill.

As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t deny that humans are visual creatures. If I could incorporate images into my work, then I believe it’ll have a much greater impact. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever have the necessary talent and skill to create those images.

However, it certain technological trends continue, I might not have to. A recent article in Psychology Today gave me hope that one day, I’ll be able to take some of these images I see in my head and make them real for others to see. It also leads me to believe that art, as we know it, is about to change in a big way.

Psychology Today: New Brain-Computer Interface Transforms Thoughts to Images

Achieving the next level of brain-computer interface (BCI) advancement, researchers at the University of Helsinki used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that uses signals from the brain to generate novel images of what the user is thinking and published the results earlier this month in Scientific Reports.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use neural activity to adapt a generative computer model and produce new information matching a human operator’s intention,” wrote the Finnish team of researchers.

The brain-computer interface industry holds the promise of innovating future neuroprosthetic medical and health care treatments. Examples of BCI companies led by pioneering entrepreneurs include Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Studies to date on brain-computer interfaces have demonstrated the ability to execute mostly limited, pre-established actions such as two-dimensional cursor movement on a computer screen or typing a specific letter of the alphabet. The typical solution uses a computer system to interpret brain-signals linked with stimuli to model mental states.

Seeking to create a more flexible, adaptable system, the researchers created an artificial system that can imagine and output what a person is visualizing based on brain signals. The researchers report that their neuroadaptive generative modeling approach is “a new paradigm that may strongly impact experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Naturally, this technology is very new and nowhere near ready for commercial use. It’ll probably be a while before I could use it to create my own graphic novels of the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told. That still won’t stop me from entertaining thoughts of incorporating images into my stories.

I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way, too. I know plenty of people like me who just do not have the talent or skill to draw anything more detailed than a stick figure. Those same people have images in their minds that they wish to share. If products like Neuralink, which the article directly references, become more mainstream, then this could be among its many uses.

With some refinement, it won’t just allow artistically challenged people like me to make competent drawings. It’ll allow people who never would’ve otherwise produced that art create something that they can share with the world.

Just take a moment to appreciate how many beautiful images exist only in the minds of people who never get an opportunity to share them. Maybe someone did have an idea for a piece of artwork that would’ve brought beauty, joy, and inspiration to the world, but they just didn’t have the skill, resources, or talent to make it tangible. How many masterpieces have we lost because of that limitation?

We can never know, but any loss of beautiful art is a tragic one. With a process like this, people who never even thought about having an artistic side could explore it. Moreover, they would be able to do it without messy art supplies, sketchbooks, or ink stains. They would just need a neural prosthesis and a computer.

Almost everyone has a computer, so we’re already halfway there. If ever a product came out that allowed us to develop this ability of turning thoughts into images, I would be among the first to try it. I would eagerly line up to take the plunge, if only to open the possibility that some of the images I see when I’m writing can become real one day. I hope I live long enough to see this. Our bodies and minds may ultimately fail us, but great art can last for multiple lifetimes.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Neuralink, technology

A Cyber Attack Managed To Shut Down A Major US Pipeline: Why We Should Be (Very) Concerned

In general, fearmongering is not productive. It’s one thing to raise awareness or express concern about an issue. It’s quite another to say that it’ll lead to the end of the world as we know it and everyone should drop what they’re doing immediately to address it.

One is a serious, substantive conversation.

The other is outright panic porn mixed with doom-saying.

This is why certain alarmists are hard to take seriously. I believe that climate change is real. I believe it’s a serious issue. However, I think those who just publicly yell about how awful the situation is and how terrible it’s bound to get aren’t helping. They’re just making it easier for people to write off valid concerns as fearmongering.

I don’t want to fall into that trap whenever I talk about issues I think warrant serious concern. At the very least, I’d like to raise reasonable awareness about an issue that may very well affect large swaths of people, both locally and globally. Even if an issue is urgent, we can’t let fearmongering obscure the issue.

Having said all that, I want to state outright that we should all be very concerned about the recent cyber attack on a major pipeline in the southern United States. You may not have felt its effects yet, but it’s likely you’ll notice the next time you have to gas up your car. To appreciate just how serious this attack was, here’s the story from Reuters.

Reuters: Cyber attack shuts down U.S. fuel pipeline ‘jugular,’ Biden briefed

Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack on Friday that involved ransomware.

The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has drawn attention to how vulnerable U.S. energy infrastructure is to hackers. A prolonged shutdown of the line would cause prices to spike at gasoline pumps ahead of peak summer driving season, a potential blow to U.S. consumers and the economy.

“This is as close as you can get to the jugular of infrastructure in the United States,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, research professor and managing director of the Climate Policy Lab. “It’s not a major pipeline. It’s the pipeline.”

Now, before you start freaking out about the possibility of terrorists hacking major utilities, it’s worth looking at this attack in context. This was not an attack done in the mold of the movie, “Live Free Or Die Hard.” These criminals were not Hans Gruber or some super-hacker in the mold of “Tron.” This was a ransomware attack.

For those not familiar with cyber crimes, a ransomware attack is when someone gets into a network or a specific computer and installs a piece of software that effectively locks all your drives. The only way to unlock it is to pay the hacker a certain sum of money, often in Bitcoin.

In general, these cyber-criminals are out to cause chaos and destroy entire countries. They’re just looking for some money. I guess in that sense they are like Hans Gruber.

For most people, there are established procedures to protect against ransomware and to weed it out. However, that’s just for personal computers and basic IT infrastructure in an average company. This attack hit a major utility. That fundamentally changes the context of this attack.

Ransoming someone with poor computer skills is one thing. That person will only suffer so much loss and frustration if they cannot save their data. A major utility is very different by orders of magnitude. Utilities like the Colonial Pipeline are critical for the basic functioning of our infrastructure. Shutting them down, even for a brief period, can cause a lot of damage.

On top of that, you’d think that a major utility would have some pretty robust cyber security, but you’d be distressingly wrong. Major government networks are still routinely hacked and hacked successfully. While most of these attacks are after personal data, the idea of a more malicious cyber attack is not an unreasonable concern at this point.

If a simple ransomware attack can disrupt a major pipeline, then what could a more coordinated attack do? It’s a disturbing question with equally disturbing answers. Remember, those who attacked the Colonial Pipeline were just after money. Imagine if they were looking to cause serious damage and loss of life.

This kind of cyber attack is not the stuff of science fiction and sub-par Die Hard movies. It has happened in the real world, the most famous being the Stuxnet attack that crippled Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That was a government-on-government attack that had major geopolitical ramifications.

Also, that’s just an attack we know about. I don’t think it takes an elaborate conspiracy theory to surmise that there have been other attacks like this that have not been made public. Some of those attacks might be many times scarier than either Stuxnet or the Colonial Pipeline.

This is all serious cause for concern. With each passing year, the world is becoming more connected and more tech savvy. An entire generation is coming up in a world where the internet is everywhere, both in industrialized nations and in developing countries. Like every generation before it, there will be conflict. It just won’t be fought in the same ways we’re used to.

If it’s possible to shut down a country’s pipelines, electricity, and communication networks without ever dropping a bomb or deploying a single troop, then we can’t assume it’ll never happen. We also can’t assume that it will, especially if we actively work on addressing the issue.

We managed to do that with nuclear weapons. We should make a similar effort with cyber attacks. We just learned that hackers can disrupt a major utility using a type of attack that is almost a decade old. Let’s not wait for another bolder attack on a larger target.

That still doesn’t mean freaking out and trying to live off the grid. It just means doing the necessary work to improve computer security, both on a personal level, as well as a governmental level. I don’t claim to be an expert in either, but if we can all do our part by just not having such an easily guessable password, we can all make a difference.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, real stories, technology

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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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, technology, YouTube

Deep Fake Technology Can Now Make Tom Cruise Iron Man: Signs And Implications

Certain technology advances slowly and steadily. It’s why we’re still waiting for a cure for the common cold. Other technological breakthroughs advance at such a fast rate it’s hard to keep up with. Anyone who doesn’t regularly upgrade their cell phone understands that.

That brings me to the technology of deep fakes. I’ve talked about them before and the implications this technology has for the entertainment industry. Well, I’m here to report that this technology might be advancing faster than I thought.

Recently, a new deep fake video hit the web. It’s nothing overly nefarious. It’s actually a play on a real story from the mid-2000s. Before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” movie, Tom Cruise was in the running for that role.

He has since claimed he was never close to getting that role, but it’s still an interesting idea. For most Marvel fans, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than RDJ donning that now-iconic armor. However, there’s no denying that Tom Cruise being Iron Man would’ve changed a franchise, as well as cinematic history.

Well, thanks to deep fake technology, we don’t have to imagine anymore. We can now see for ourselves what it would look like if Tom Cruise had been cast as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. See for yourself.

Watching this, I have to say it was more than a little jarring. It’s not just that seeing someone other than RDJ as Iron Man is strange. I was genuinely impressed by how real it looked.

Yes, it did become a bit obvious at times that there was some digital trickery at work. I’ve seen enough Tom Cruise movies to know what he looks like. I could tell that the body just did not match the iconic face at times.

However, I’m still impressed at just how seamless it appeared, especially when he was in the Iron Man costume. It really did look like Cruise had embraced the role as much as RDJ had. Even though the voice had to come courtesy of a skilled voice actor, the graphics technology is definitely on pace to cross the uncanny valley sooner rather than later.

The implications here are profound. If the technology is already at this point, then it’s a given that Hollywood and propaganda pushers will start embracing it sooner. For Hollywood, who is reeling in wake of a historic pandemic, they may have more incentives to embrace it than most.

Beyond actors and actresses who get “cancelled” for their behavior, it may start as a cost cutting measure. If it costs too much to put Hugh Jackman or Tom Cruise on a movie set, why not just put a cheaper actor in their place and just deep fake the more iconic figure over it? If the technology is that good and nobody can tell the difference, it almost makes too much sense.

It may get to a point where nobody outside the studio knows whether the figure we see on screen was actually “there” to give that moment life. They may just be a digital scan mixed with digitally audio, which is also advancing.

This has even larger implications with propaganda. If the technology gets to a point where we can make any public figure say or do anything we want, no matter how deplorable, then how can we trust any media image? Would “cancel culture” even be feasible at that point? If people can just claim an embarrassing moment was a deep fake, how would we know?

It’s a distressing thought, but it’s something we’ll have to account for. We may end up having to contemplate it sooner than we thought. This technology can already show us a world in which Tom Cruise was cast as Iron Man. What other worlds will it reveal?

We’ll find out soon enough.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, media issues, superhero comics, superhero movies, technology, YouTube

Remembering (And Celebrating) Your First Email Address

People of a certain age still remember what life was like before the internet. Trying to describe that age to someone under the age of 21 is like trying to describe a lost civilization. Some just can’t wrap their head around the idea that getting information involved using books, asking a professional, or just giving up entirely.

I consider myself lucky. I do remember the pre-internet days, but for the vast majority of my life, I’ve had access to it. I also came from a family that embraced it fairly early. I had access to a computer long before some of my friends. We didn’t entirely know what to do with it, but I loved exploring it and the digital world it offered.

It culminated, so to speak, when I finally got to make my first email account. That might not seem like a big deal now, but you have to understand that this was a time when few people had access to the internet, let alone an email address. We still called each other on the phone. I’ll give teenagers a moment to stop cringing.

That first email address was mostly a novelty for me. It was also kind of tedious to set up. It was an AOL address, back during an era when AOL ruled the internet. I didn’t know what I’d use it for. This was around 1997. The internet was still such a novelty. We didn’t realize at the time how revolutionary it would be.

Hindsight has revealed plenty, but I can still say with pride that I have that old email address. It’s still active. I still use it regularly. It’s not the center of my internet world anymore, but I kind of take comfort that I’m still using this email address that I set up before high school.

That’s not the case for most of the people I know. Aside from email that was set up exclusively for work, most say they don’t use that first email address they created. For some, it has long since been deactivated. I can’t say I blame them. Some of those early email addresses were clunky and hard to remember.

Those that still have their first email address, and regularly use it, tend to have a unique perspective on the internet. Even those younger than me treat it differently from all the other email addresses they have. Considering how some people have dozens, that’s quite a feat.

With that in mind, I’d like you to take a moment to recount your first internet experiences. It might just help you appreciate how far you’ve come in this digital world we’ve all come to know so well.

What was the first email address you ever created? What did you use it for?

Did you realize at the time why it was so important?

Do you still use that first email address?

How many email addresses do you have in total?

How many have you abandoned or closed?

How much does email impact your day-to-day life?

For young people, these questions may be a bit harder to answer. There’s an entire generation coming of age that has always lived in a world that has the internet. For them, having an internet connection is akin to having clothes. It’s a necessity to function in the current world.

For those in my age range or older, it’s easier to take a broader view of how the internet has impacted your life. They’re still difficult questions to answer, albeit in a unique way. We can remember what life was like without it. Whether you remember that period fondly or not is entirely personal, but there’s no denying the extent of the impact.

I encourage anyone reading this to appreciate this perspective. Take a moment, if you can, to think about that first email address you had and how it impacted your life. Regardless of your age, it helps you see just how far you’ve come and that’s worth celebrating.

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Jack’s World: A Balanced Outlook On Artificial Intelligence

The following is a video I posted on my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my attempt to offer some perspective on artificial intelligence, a topic I’ve covered many times before. I hope you find it informative and engaging. Enjoy!

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Jack's World, technology, YouTube

Six Technologies The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic Could Accelerate

Humanity is capable of amazing feats when given the right incentive and circumstances. The problem is that humanity is also rather stubborn when it comes to incentives and exceedingly evasive when it comes to changing circumstances. We’ll go the extra distance and beat the odds eventually. We just need to be dragged kicking and screaming for a while.

When it comes to the ultimate incentives and circumstances, few check more boxes than a global pandemic. I don’t think I need to belabor how bad the ongoing Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has been. Even without media distortions and political agendas, there’s no getting around the damage it has and continues to inflict.

People are dying.

People suffering.

Societies and economies are teetering on the brink of collapse.

This is not a tenable situation and one nobody wants to see again. As bad as it is, there might be one silver lining to this global tragedy. It could help accelerate the development of technology that was already in the works, but lacked the necessary motivation to develop faster.

What follows are a few technologies that I believe this horrible pandemic might help in the sense that it’ll add some urgency. Nobody wants to see a mess like this again. Whether you’re rich, poor, powerful, or powerless, we have every reason to find new ways of preventing these plagues before they happen and these technologies are instrumental in doing just that.


Artificial Intelligence (Not Necessarily The Advanced Kind)

It’s impossible to overstate the potential benefits of artificial intelligence. I’ve certainly made a concerted effort when writing about it in the past. However, in the context of battling plagues, we don’t necessarily need the kind of super-advanced, super-intelligent AI to provide some of those benefits. When it comes to combating plagues, we don’t need an AI to be as intelligent as a human. We just need it to help us combat deadly disease.

This can be done without the kind of AI that finds its way into Skynet or Hal 9000. An AI that can better-analyze genetic data, run simulations on possible treatments, and track the spread of a disease can do plenty to prevent or mitigate future plagues. If it can just help us identify and isolate new cases in a short span of time, then that alone could save millions.

At a certain point, AI could get powerful enough to calculate entire treatment programs once it has the genetic data of a pathogen or condition. After this global, well-publicized crisis, it’ll have plenty of data to work with.


Space-Based Broadband Internet

When it comes to dealing with pandemics, the incentives don’t stop at treating the disease. Given all the closures and cancellations caused by COVID-19, we now know how challenging it is to endure an extended quarantine, especially for kids with no school and sports fans with no sports.

Enduring this crisis has revealed just how critical it is to have a strong, robust internet connection. It may not treat the disease, but it makes the measures recommended by the authorities more bearable. The problem is our current infrastructure for the internet is badly in need of upgrades and its role in helping us function has been made abundantly clear during this crisis.

For work, play, and just avoiding crippling boredom, we need a better internet. That’s where space-based internet, like the ones being developed by companies like FaceBook and Google come in. The idea is as simple as it is awesome. Use satellites and other high-flying crafts to deliver data more efficiently and reliably.

There are a few space-based internet service providers now, but they’re incredibly limited. This crisis, which needs reliable internet for so many reasons, might help pick up the pace in refining this technology. At the very least, it will allow people to binge-watch Netflix from the summit of Mount Everest.


Nanoparticle Vaccines

On the medical side of things, this crisis should go a long way towards teaching people the importance of vaccines. While I don’t doubt the anti-vax crowd will find an excuse to protest, even those skeptical of modern medicine can’t deny the need for better preventative measures for these treatments. Unfortunately, vaccine technology has been stagnant for decades.

This pandemic will hopefully change that and not a minute too soon. The current process for producing a vaccine is long and cumbersome, taking upwards of two years. It’s a process that has a lot of room for improvement. That’s where technology like nanoparticles come in.

The key to any medical treatment is the effectiveness of the delivery system. Vaccines have always had to take a messy path, but nanoparticles could change that. Instead of relying on the biological equivalent of a blunt instrument, nanoparticles could become biological smart-bombs, targeting pathogens with the precision we need to keep them from ever becoming pandemics.

Anti-vaxxers who refuse these just have a death with.


Gene Editing/Synthetic Biology

Not unlike vaccines, gene editing and synthetic biology stand to get a major boost from this crisis. I’ve written about gene editing tool like CRISPR in the past. I’ve touted it as a tool that could potentially treat all infectious disease, especially when combined with synthetic biology. That might have been hyperbole, but I stand by my claims on it’s potential.

Gene editing can do more than make pet fish glow. In theory, it can tweak and rewrite the DNA of organism, including the viruses that infect us. The challenge is refining the procedure so that we know how to modify diseases or create entirely new organisms that combat them through synthetic biology.

It’s not a small challenge. I’m grossly oversimplifying the obstacles in refining this technology into something usable. However, those obstacles are not insurmountable. It just requires time, resources, and motivation. After being economically and socially ravaged by a global pandemic, these efforts will have a lot more urgency.


Immersive Virtual Reality

While the scientists and doctors take up the challenge of fighting future pandemics, the rest of us are tasked with enduring the boredom they incur. I’ve noted before how boredom could become the plague of the future. I hope those stuck at home for weeks on end are done doubting me.

The entertainment industry may never be as vital as the medical industry, but it’ll play an important role in helping people stay sane, calm, and kind. Binge-watching TV and playing video games is helpful, but there’s room for improvement. At the end of the day, you’re still just sitting on a couch, looking at a screen.

To keep things both interesting and active, the development of virtual reality should get a major boost. It has existed for years and grown considerably from the days of the Virtual Boy, but it has room for improvement. Thanks to improving computer technology and more advanced interfaces like Neuralink, the experience could become even more immersive.

Beyond simply treating boredom, it could allow a greater sense of active engagement, which is critical when everyone is practicing social distancing. Being isolated and cut off from human contact may help temper a plague, but it’s not healthy. A way to immerse yourself in a realistic environment could help make future quarantines more bearable while also opening a new market, which gaming companies are sure to exploit.


Sex Robots (Obviously)

Does this one really need an explanation? When you’re stuck inside, horny, and run out of things to binge-watch, things are going to happen. Even if your partner or significant other is with you, they might get sick and you might feel lonely. Given how pandemics tend to temper the market for sex workers, a sex robot might be the best and only option.

If at least one company or horny entrepreneur hasn’t realized that by now, I’ll be shocked. The market for sex robots has been growing in recent years. After enduring a pandemic and weeks of social isolation, that market has likely grown. People rarely forget big global events like this. They’ll remember how lonely they were and that memory will fuel the development of sex robots more than any libido.

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