Tag Archives: futuristic technology

Why We Should Treat Our Data As (Valuable) Property

Many years ago, I created my first email address before logging into the internet. It was a simple AOL account. I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was creating anything valuable. At the time, the internet was limited to slow, clunky dial-up that had little to offer in terms of content. I doubt anyone saw what they were doing as creating something of great value.

I still have that email address today in case you’re wondering. I still regularly use it. I imagine a lot of people have an email address they created years ago for one of those early internet companies that used to dominate a very different digital world. They may not even see that address or those early internet experiences as valuable.

Times have changed and not just in terms of pandemics. In fact, times tends to change more rapidly in the digital world than it does in the real world. The data we created on the internet, even in those early days, became much more valuable over time. It served as the foundation on which multi-billion dollar companies were built.

As a result, the data an individual user imparts onto the internet has a great deal of value. You could even argue that the cumulative data of large volumes of internet users is among the most valuable data in the world.

Politicians, police, the military, big businesses, advertising agencies, marketing experts, economists, doctors, and researchers all have use for this data. Many go to great lengths to get it, sometimes through questionable means.

The growing value of this data raises some important questions.

Who exactly owns this data?

How do we go about treating it from a legal, fiscal, and logistical standpoint?

Is this data a form of tangible property, like land, money, or labor?

Is this something we can exchange, trade, or lease?

What is someone’s recourse if they want certain aspects of their data removed, changed, or deleted?

These are all difficult questions that don’t have easy answers. It’s getting to a point where ownership of data was an issue among candidates running for President of the United States. Chances are, as our collective data becomes more vital for major industries, the issue will only grow in importance.

At the moment, it’s difficult to determine how this issue will evolve. In the same way I had no idea how valuable that first email address would be, nobody can possibly know how the internet, society, the economy, and institutions who rely on that data will evolve. The best solution in the near term might not be the same as the best solution in the long term.

Personally, I believe that our data, which includes our email addresses, browsing habits, purchasing habits, and social media posts, should be treated as personal property. Like money, jewels, or land, it has tangible value. We should treat it as such and so should the companies that rely on it.

However, I also understand that there are complications associated with this approach. Unlike money, data isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You can’t easily hand it over to another person, nor can you claim complete ownership of it. To some extent, the data you create on the internet was done with the assistance of the sites you use and your internet service provider.

Those companies could claim some level of ownership of your data. It might even be written in the fine print of those user agreements that nobody ever reads. It’s hard to entirely argue against such a claim. After all, we couldn’t create any of this data without the aid of companies like Verizon, AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. At the same time, these companies couldn’t function, let alone profit, without our data.

It’s a difficult question to resolve. It only gets more difficult when you consider laws like the “right to be forgotten.” Many joke that the internet never forgets, but it’s no laughing matter. Peoples’ lives can be ruined, sometimes through no fault of their own. Peoples’ private photos have been hacked and shared without their permission.

In that case, your data does not at all function like property. Even if it’s yours, you can’t always control it or what someone else does with it. You can try to take control of it, but it won’t always work. Even data that was hacked and distributed illegally is still out there and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Despite those complications, I still believe that our data is still the individual’s property to some extent, regardless of what the user agreements of tech companies claim. Those companies provide the tools, but we’re the ones who use them to build something. In the same way a company that makes hammers doesn’t own the buildings they’re used to make, these companies act as the catalyst and not the byproduct.

Protecting our data, both from theft and from exploitation, is every bit as critical as protecting our homes. An intruder into our homes can do a lot of damage. In our increasingly connected world, a nefarious hacker or an unscrupulous tech company can do plenty of damage as well.

However, there’s one more critical reason why I believe individuals need to take ownership of their data. It has less to do with legal jargon and more to do with trends in technology. At some point, we will interact with the internet in ways more intimate than a keyboard and mouse. The technology behind a brain/computer interface is still in its infancy, but it exists and not just on paper.

Between companies like Neuralink and the increasing popularity of augmented reality, the way we interact with technology is bound to get more intimate/invasive. Clicks and link sharing are valuable today. Tomorrow, it could be complex thoughts and feelings. Whoever owns that stands to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the user.

I know it’s common refrain to say that knowledge is power, but when the knowledge goes beyond just our browsing and shopping habits, it’s not an unreasonable statement. As we build more and more of our lives around digital activities, our identities will become more tied to that data. No matter how large or small that portion might be, we’ll want to own it as much as we can.

It only gets more critical if we get to a point where we can fully digitize our minds, as envisioned in shows like “Altered Carbon.” At some point, our bodies are going to break down. We cannot preserve it indefinitely for the same reason we can’t preserve a piece of pizza indefinitely. However, the data that makes up our minds could be salvaged, but that opens the door to many more implications.

While that kind of technology is a long way off, I worry that if we don’t take ownership of our data today, then it’ll only get harder to do so in the future. Even before the internet, information about who we are and what we do was valuable.

This information forms a big part of our identity. If we don’t own that, then what’s to stop someone else from owning us and exploiting that to the utmost? It’s a question that has mostly distressing answers. I still don’t know how we go about staking our claim on our data, but it’s an issue worth confronting. The longerwe put it off, the harder it will get.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, politics, technology

Big Tech, AI Research, And Ethics Concerns: Why We Should All Worry

In general, I root for technology and technological progress. Overall, I believe it has been a net benefit for humanity. It’s one of the major reasons why we’ve made so much progress as a global society in the past 100 years.

I’ve sung the praises of technology in the past, speculated on its potential, and highlighted individuals who have used it to save millions of lives. For the most part, I focus on the positives and encourage other people to have a less pessimistic view of technology and the change it invites.

That said, there is another side to that coin and I try not to ignore it. Like anything, technology has a dark side. It can be used to harm just as much as it can be used to hurt, if not more so. You could argue that we couldn’t have killed each other at such a staggering rate in World War II without technology.

It’s not hyperbole to say that certain technology could be the death of us all. In fact, we’ve come distressingly close to destroying ourselves before, namely with nuclear weapons. There’s no question that kind of technology is dangerous.

However, artificial intelligence could be far more dangerous than any nuclear bomb. I’ve talked about it before and I’ll likely bring it up again. This technology just has too much potential, for better and for worse.

That’s why when people who are actually researching it have concerns, we should take notice. One such individual spoke out recently, specifically someone who worked for Google, an organization with deep pockets and a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.

According to a report from the Associated Press, a scholar named Timnit Gebru expressed serious concerns about Google’s AI research, specifically in how their operating ethics. For a company as big and powerful as Google, that’s not a trivial comment. This is what she had to say.

AP News: Google AI researcher’s exit sparks ethics, bias concerns

Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google’s public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology.

But internally, Gebru, a leader in the field of AI ethics, was not shy about voicing doubts about those commitments — until she was pushed out of the company this week in a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of AI.

Gebru announced on Twitter she was fired. Google told employees she resigned. More than 1,200 Google employees have signed on to an open letter calling the incident “unprecedented research censorship” and faulting the company for racism and defensiveness.

The furor over Gebru’s abrupt departure is the latest incident raising questions about whether Google has strayed so far away from its original “Don’t Be Evil” motto that the company now routinely ousts employees who dare to challenge management. The exit of Gebru, who is Black, also raised further doubts about diversity and inclusion at a company where Black women account for just 1.6% of the workforce.

And it’s exposed concerns beyond Google about whether showy efforts at ethical AI — ranging from a White House executive order this week to ethics review teams set up throughout the tech industry — are of little use when their conclusions might threaten profits or national interests.

I bolded that last sentence because I think it’s the most relevant. It’s also the greatest cause for concern. I suspect Ms. Gebru is more concerned than most because the implications are clear.

When a tool as powerful as advanced AI is developed, who gets to determine how it’s used? Who gets to program the ethical framework by which it operates? Who gets to decide how the benefits are conferred and the harms are reduced?

Moreover, how do you even go about programming an AI with the right kind of ethics?

That’s a very relative question and one we can’t avoid if we’re going to keep developing this technology. I’ve tried to answer it, but I’m hardly an expert. Ms. Gebru was definitely in a better position than me or most other people with a passing interest in this field.

Then, she gets fired and starts expressing concerns publicly. The fact that she can and Google isn’t facing much in terms of repercussions should be concerning. It may also be a sign of the larger challenges we’re facing.

Google, like many other organizations researching advanced AI, is a profit-seeking tech company. They’re not some utopian technocrats. They’re a business who is obligated to make their investors happy. Advanced AI will help them do that, but what kind of consequences will that invite?

If profit is the primary motivation of an advanced AI, then what happens when it encounters a situation where profit comes at the cost of lives? There are already human-run companies that make those decision and people die because of them. An advanced AI will only make it many times worse.

Once an artificial intelligence system is as smart as a human, it’s going to be capable in ways we don’t expect and can’t control. If it’s ethics and goals aren’t aligned with us, then what’s to stop it from wiping humanity out in the name of profit?

It’s a distressing thought. It’s probably a thought that has crossed Ms. Gebru’s mind more than once. She may know how close or far we are to that point, but the fact that this is already a conflict should worry us all.

We’ve already become so numb to the greed and excesses of big business. Tech companies may conduct themselves as this team of future-building visionaries intent on making the world a better place, but the profit motive is still there. Like it or not, profit is still a hell of a motive.

Eventually, artificial intelligence will get to a point where it will either adopt our ethics or choose to formulate its own, which may or may not align with ours. When that happens, no amount of profit may be worth the risk.

Now, we’re still a ways off from an artificial intelligence system on that level, but it’s still quite possible that there are people alive today who will grow up to see it. When that time comes, we need to be damn sure these systems have solid ethical frameworks in place.

If they don’t, we really don’t stand a chance. We’re a society that still kills each other over what we think happens when we die without seeing the irony. Even a marginally advanced AI will have no issues wiping us out if we make doing so profitable.

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Five Crazy Ways People Will Utilize Emerging Technology In The Future

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Technology is amazing. Future technology promises to be even more amazing. I’ve covered some of the exciting trends for the near and distant future. Some are inherently sexier than others, but there’s no denying the appeal. Great leaps in technology promises to help humanity realize their full potential.

That’s not to say it won’t come at a price and I’m not just referring to the existential dangers, such as those involving artificial intelligence. As remarkable as the human species is when it comes to technology, it does have its share of eccentricities, for lack of a better word.

It’s not enough to just develop remarkable powerful tools for improving our collective well-being. We have to get creative in how we use them, sometimes to absurd lengths. I’m not just talking about the “creative” ways some people use ski-masks, either. Sometimes, new technology will inspire unexpected uses.

The Wright brothers didn’t invent planes with the expectation the it would create skydiving. The inventors of the internet probably didn’t expect it to be a massive hub for pornography and fake news. Those developing CRISPR, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are probably going to see their creations used in ways they never intended.

Now, I’ve never claimed an ability to predict the future, but I’m still human and I have an internet connection. I’ve seen plenty of footage of my fellow humans doing crazy/disturbing things with technology. If the past is any guide, then I feel like I can infer a few potential manifestations of future absurdities.

Some are more likely than others. Some may end up being completely wrong. Whatever happens, though, is still going to seem weird or crazy to everyone alive today. If you’re the kind of person who complains about the weird things young people do with their phones today, just you wait. Her are five weird ways that I believe people will utilize technology in the future.


Number 5: Women May Bear And Give Birth To Dead Loved Ones

Few experiences are more devastating than losing a loved one. This year, I had to endure that when my grandmother died. Every day, someone in this world has to suffer the sorrow of losing a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a child. There are many ways to cope with that today, but the future will create more options, some more extreme than others.

One of those extremes involve women, or even transgender women with functioning wombs, bearing and giving birth to lost loved ones. Say you’re a woman whose spouse died tragically in an accident. Rather than live in a world without them, you decide to take their DNA, inject it into an ovum, and carry it to term. Nine months later, your dead loved one is born again and you’re reunited.

That sort of technology is not that far off. In vitro fertilization is a well-developed science. Cloning techniques have improved significantly since the late 90s. There have even been movies starring Robert De Niro on this very scenario. While the ethics and laws surrounding cloning are still somewhat messy, this technology is already coming.

Once it’s refined, there will be no reason why it couldn’t be done. It would just take someone who’s sufficiently devastated/daring to try it. This would definitely create some weird situations in which people give birth to dead siblings and children give birth to their reborn parents. It seems absurd, if not obscene, to us now, but it may end up being a legitimate way for some people to cope.

At the very least, it would certainly make for some interesting sitcoms in the future.


Number 4: People Will Purposefully Damage/Destroy Body Parts For Fun

Not everyone gets the appeal of extreme sports. Some just can’t wrap their head around the idea of doing something so dangerous that it could cause permanent/fatal injury. There are those who say society is gradually shifting away from such dangerous forms of entertainment. Some even say contact sports like football and boxing will be a thing of the past.

I respectfully disagree with that. I believe it’s going to get more extreme and more brutal. The reason I believe this is because of life-saving biotechnology that will help us regrow limbs, organs, and everything in between.

For most people, taking care of their bodies is a big deal and a primary factor in why they don’t do dangerous things. That’s because, for the moment, we only have one body and if we don’t take care of it, we’ll end up dead, disabled, or disfigured. Thanks to regenerative medicine, though, that may not always be the case.

We’re already on the cusp of being able to regrow organs in a lab. At some point, we may even able to grow entire limbs. Lose your arm accidentally while trying to juggle chainsaws? That’s not a problem. Just grow a new arm and you’re as good as new. Did you kill your liver by doing shots of diesel fuel and bleach with your friends? That’s not a problem either. You can just grow a new liver.

If injury or disfigurement is the only thing keeping you from doing something crazy/stupid, then regenerative medicine will give you all the reasons you need to try it. Even if you end up hating it, you’ll still be able to try it without worrying too much about long-term damage.

The kinds of extreme activities this could inspire is hard to imagine. Football may stop caring about shredded knees or damaged brains if regenerative medicine can just fix everything. The extreme sports we see today may not even be seen as that extreme because the injuries are more an inconvenience than a concern.

Considering how boredom may end up being the greatest plague of the future, I think it’s likely that people will find all sorts of ways to do crazy, dangerous things for fun. The prospect of pain may still keep some people from trying, but the prospect of boredom will at least give them pause.


Number 3: People Will Splice/Tweak Their DNA With Animals For Impossible Traits

I’m not the first one to make this prediction. There was an entire episode of “Batman Beyond,” an underrated Batman cartoon that takes place in the future, dedicated to this idea. In the episode, teenagers use genetic technology to splice their DNA with that of animals. It doesn’t just give them exotic looks that are impossible by the laws of evolution. It gives them animal-like traits to go with it.

Want to have fur like a cat and a tail like a monkey? With the right genetics, you can do that.

Want to have scales like a snake and muscles like a gorilla? Splice the right genes into your genome and you can have that too, minus the poop throwing.

People are already tweaking their genome through biohacking. Granted, those hacks are limited because even tools like CRISPR have limits. However, as those tools improve, it’ll be possible to do more than just tweak the human genome. In theory, we could use the genomes of every other species on Earth to enhance our own.

At first, it’ll just be to help us survive. There are some animals who have better muscles, better immune systems, and better resistance to aging. However, once those refinements are made, we’ll be able to get more creative. Why stop at just making ourselves healthier and stronger? We could turn splicing our genes with other animals into full-blown fashion trends.

Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the craziest fashion trend humans have ever come up with. Look up something called “Lotus Shoes” and you’ll see what I mean.


Number 2: People Will Use Biotechnology And Brain Implants To Create Insanely Powerful Drugs

As I write this, the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in modern history. In 2016 alone, there were over 63,000 deaths caused by opioid overdoses. There’s no question that these drugs are as powerful as they are dangerous. However, through future advancements in biotechnology, these drugs will seem like breath mints by comparison.

That’s because all drugs, whether they’re pain killers or cheap vitamins, work the same way. Their chemical components interact with the complex biology of a person to induce a desired effect. Since they’re chemicals, though, those interactions are fairly crude. Trying to pursue those effects, be they simple pain relief or treating Ebola, is like trying to destroy a single house through carpet bombing.

Biotechnology, and the nanotechnology that will likely complement it, works more like a smart bomb. Rather than just flood the brain and body with chemicals, the drugs of the future will be more akin to programmable biomatter. They’ll have a measure of intelligence that will allow them to go to a particular part of the body and provide the necessary stimulation.

By being targeted and smart, that will allow for more effective treatments and alleviate pain. Why stop there, though? Why not use that same approach to produce the most potent, mind-altering effects our brains ever conjured? In theory, there’s no reason that the same smart blood that will treat disease could also stimulate every possible pleasure center in the brain.

As potent as today’s drugs are, they won’t be able to match what intelligent nanomachines in the bloodstream can produce. Beyond just eliminating pain without damaging side-effects, they could create a high that’s physically impossible to induce today. Add further brain enhancements to the mix through implants and all bets are off in terms of mind-altering highs.

Sure, that may resolve the opioid crisis, but it may end up triggering an entirely different set of problems. People can barely handle the drugs we have today. Will they be able to handle a high that’s mind-altering in a very literal sense? Only time will tell.


Number 1: People Will Eat Meat From Extinct Or Exotic Animals (Including Other Humans)

Producing enough food to support our growing population has long been the greatest challenge of civilization. Through the Green Revolution, and brilliant humanitarians like Norman Borlaug, we now have more food today than we’ve ever had in human history. There are still hungry people in this world, but producing the food is no longer quite the challenge it once was.

Thanks to biotechnology and synthetic meats, it’s about to get easier. Producing abundant food takes a lot of water, land, resources, and animals. The environmental impacts of that process are well-documented and prone to many fart jokes. Through new techniques like vertical farming and cultured meats, we may not even need fields or live animals to produce our food.

Back in 2013, the first ever lab-grown burger was created and eaten. It cost $330,000 to make and wasn’t that much better than a standard Big Mac. Since then, the cost has dropped considerably to less than $20. The only remaining step is to scale up production and refine the process.

That’s great for animal lovers and those concerned with environmental degradation. However, the ability to produce abundant meat without animals is going to open up an entirely new branch of food. If you can make unlimited quantities of beef with a few cow cells, why not try other animals to see what they taste like?

Why not take a few cells from a bald eagle, an endangered rhino, or even an extinct mammoth? If you have the cells and the DNA, then you can technically make meat from anything. That includes humans as well. While cannibalism is a major taboo in nearly every culture, why would it be if there was a way to eat human meat without ever harming a human?

Most people today probably wouldn’t try human meat, even if it was grown in a lab. Then again, most people alive 100 years ago probably would’ve been reluctant to try spray-cheese in a can as well. In a future where eating meat is no longer associated with the killing of animals, those taboos might not hold.

I can even imagine a whole culture emerging around it. Say you’re on a romantic date with a loved one. What better way to celebrate your love for each other than by eating burgers made from the lab-grown flesh of your lover? You love each other so much that you eat each other for a meal. It may seem weird, if not macabre, these days, but it may end up being an act of genuine intimacy in the future.


These are just some of the weird ways I we may use our technology in the future. If you have another idea for a crazy way people will use emerging technology, please let me know in the comments. Some of these trends may not occur within my lifetime or that of anyone reading this, but every generation ends up having a strange concept of “normal.” The future will just give us better tools to expand that strangeness.

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Filed under futurism, human nature, psychology, Sexy Future