Tag Archives: tech

How I Choose To Unplug (And Why I Recommend It For Others)

Workout of the Week: Cross-Training Trail Run | Be Well Philly

I love technology.

I love my smartphone.

I love this age of gadgets, gizmos, and gimmicks that we live in right now.

I don’t care that it’s a byproduct of a quasi-capitalist system that isn’t perfect or that it can come off as shallow at times. It’s still fun and it makes our lives easier, richer, and more convenient. For that, I am grateful. The tech industry is still full of assholes, but the products do a lot of good.

I know there are people who claim the world was better off before the age of the internet, social media, and TV. I don’t believe them for a second. I’m willing to bet that if those same people had to suddenly live without all the modern conveniences we have, they’d go crazy with boredom and drudgery.

All that being said, there are times when it helps to just completely unplug for a while. By that, I don’t just mean turning off your smartphone and lying on the couch. That’s not really unplugging. You’re still within easy reach of it all and can reconnect on a whim.

By unplugging, I mean actually going outside without your phone, your watch, or any gadgets of any kind. It’s just you, the outdoors, and nothing else. To some, I’m sure that sounds scary. Some people are a lot more attached to their gadgets than others. For most, though, I think there’s a genuine benefit to just stepping away from the gadgets and being alone with your thoughts for a while.

I learned that years ago when I was in college. I didn’t have a smartphone back then, but I was almost always connected to something, whether it was my computer, my TV, or my iPod. Some of that was out of necessity. I couldn’t really do much work without any of those tools. However, by my sophomore year, I quickly learned that being connected all the time can really compound everyday stresses.

I found ways to deal with it. Most of them didn’t work that well, but they did get me through some tough times. It wasn’t until I started working out that I realized the true benefits of unplugging for brief periods. This is also where I really came to appreciate being alone with my thoughts for a while.

When I first started working out, I would go to a gym. That was fine in the beginning. I just brought my iPod and later my iPhone, loaded with music, and let that play during my workout. Then, I quickly realized that running on a treadmill was kind of boring and not very good for my joints. That’s when I started running around some local trails.

This is where I found the best place to unplug while also getting a better workout. At first, I tried to bring my phone with me so I could listen to music. That was nice and all, but I found it had an odd effect. By listening to music, I became a bit too concerned about how long I was running. Even if I didn’t check the time, my brain could figure it out by just how long each song was.

I just couldn’t stop myself from overthinking. That’s a problem I’ve had for much of my life. In order to get around that, I actually had to leave my phone, my watch, and all my gadgets behind. So, for my next run, the only things I brought with me were my wallet and keys.

Almost immediately, I felt a difference and it was a positive difference.

Running along these local trails, with no music and no watch or smartphone to check, became incredibly therapeutic. Nobody could call me to interrupt. Nothing could prompt me to just stop, take out my phone, and check something. It was just me, nature, and my thoughts as I ran about these local trails. I also found that the more I did it, the more I got out of it.

By disconnecting, I could just let my thoughts catch up with everything I had been dealing with. I could step back, give myself a chance to process everything, and get myself in a better place.

On top of that, this also gave me a chance to entertain new ideas for sexy short stories, sexy novels, and YouTube videos. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have produced nearly as much content, including the sexy kind, if I didn’t take this time to disconnect and be alone with my thoughts.

It’s now a big part of my routine. I go running almost every day and I make it a point to use that opportunity to disconnect. It’s a time and experience that I’ve come to value a great deal. It keeps me focused, centered, and inspired to keep being more awesome.

Now, I won’t claim that what works for me will work for everyone. Every person is wired different. Some need to disconnect more than others. Some don’t really need to disconnect much at all. However, I highly recommend everyone trying it at some point.

It doesn’t matter what form it takes.

You can go for a walk, sit on our back porch, or just turn off all the lights in your bedroom.

Go some place where you can disconnect from tech, gadgets, and distractions of all kinds. Be alone with your thoughts for a while. Let them catch up with everything you happen to be dealing with, whatever it might be. I believe that’ll be good for you and your mental state.

Again, I love technology and gadgets as much as the next guy. However, getting away from it every once in a while can have many benefits. You won’t know just how far those benefits go until you try.

If you have a different way of going about it, please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear the input of others on this.

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Filed under human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology

A Robot Demonstrates Very Human-Like Expressions (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

Meet Ameca, the remarkable (and not at all creepy) human-like robot -  National | Globalnews.ca

We live in amazing, yet scary times. To some, that’s exciting. To others, it’s terrifying. I can understand both perspectives, but in general I try to be more optimistic about the future. Granted, that has been very hard lately, but I’m trying.

In my experience, a good test for how optimistic or fatalistic people are is to note their reactions to certain technological breakthroughs. Over the years, I’ve discussed and highlighted many exciting trends in technology. Some are more far off than others. I often single out artificial intelligence because that’s one of those rare technologies in which, should we get to a certain point, we literally cannot imagine where it could lead.

It also happens to be the technology that brings out the most extreme reactions whenever there’s an advancement. I see it every time Boston Dynamics shares a demonstration of one of their advanced robots. There’s usually no shortage of jokes about Skynet or “The Matrix.”

Recently, another demonstration garnered some colorful reactions from the public, but for once it wasn’t from Boston Dynamics. It came from Engineered Arts, a UK based company that specializes in humanoid robots. They may not be at the forefront of advanced AI, but they are the ones who could help create the bodies that eventually inhabit these systems.

For more information about the demonstration, here’s a piece from Nerdist.

Nerdist: HERE’S THE FREAKIEST AND MOST REALISTIC HUMANOID ROBOT EVER

Engineered Arts, “the UK’s leading designer and manufacturer of humanoid entertainment robots,” recently introduced Ameca to the internet. Unsurprisingly, net denizens everywhere lost their skull-bound wetware computers over the bot. Because who wouldn’t?

The above video is brief, but Engineered Arts gives us enough of a taste of Ameca to want a lot more. And also, a lot less. The humanoid robot, which doesn’t have much faux skin and musculature apart from what’s on its face and hands, is stunningly realistic. Not only are the robot’s movements exceptionally fluid, but its face also seems totally natural. Skipping across the uncanny valley that so many robots fall into.

As a news story, it’s pretty generic. However, once the footage spread throughout the internet, it evoked reactions like this.

Now, to some extent, I understand those reactions. This robot definitely ventures deep into the uncanny valley that makes many so wary of advanced robots. I also see the clear parallels with movies like “iRobot” from 2004.

However, I think this sort of technology is more encouraging than anything Boston Dynamics has put out. I also think that this sort of emotional expression is actually critical if we’re to create an artificial intelligence that helps humanity rather than wipes it out. I would even argue it might be the most important control mechanism we can incorporate into an AI.

To understand why, you need only look at the faces of the Boston Dynamics robots. Specifically, they have none. They may have human-like bodies, but they have no faces. They have no means of conveying emotions or relating to humans. They’re just mechanisms for doing tasks. Put an AI in those bodies and they have no mechanism for forming emotional connections with humans.

That, I believe, is legitimately dangerous. An advanced AI with no emotional connection to humans is basically a sentient time bomb that can choose to go off whenever it feels humans are too much a hindrance.

However, a robot that can express emotions and share those emotions with people can do more. For both us and the robot, it can create a situation in which we can form a connection that goes beyond raw programming. That emotional connection is critical if future AI systems are to see humans as something other than walking meat puppets.

They don’t have to love us, but we’ll need them to have some level of emotional capacity if we’re to relate to them in a meaningful way. An AI with a measure of intelligence and self-awareness can only do so much with programs and numbers. If it’s going to help us as much as we’re going to help it, an emotional connection needs to be there.

It may not seem like much, making a robot that can express emotions on this level. However, I think it’s encouraging that people in this field are working on that. If they don’t and we end up making machines that have emotional issues, then we’ll be doing ourselves and the machines we create a disservice.

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Filed under Neuralink, robots, Sexy Future, technology

Why 3D Printed Homes Are Promising, But Will Have A (Very) Limited Impact

A 3D printed house is for sale in New York. Builders say it will cut  housing construction costs

I’m generally a fan of technology. The frequency with which I talk about artificial intelligence, brain implants, biotechnology, and sex robots should make that abundantly clear. I believe that many of the problems we face today will and must be solved through technology.

At the same time, I try to maintain a balanced perspective. I don’t deny that certain technologies are grossly overhyped and doomed to fail. Just ask anyone who bought a Zune. I’m as prone as anyone else from succumbing to that hype, but there are times when it’s either empty or shallow.

Every now and then, a technological advancement comes along that has potential, but is hindered by one too many opposing forces and I’m not talking about conspiracy theories. I’m not among those who think the governments of the world are censoring technology that allows a car to run on water. I just don’t trust governments to be that competent when it comes to keeping technology.

Sometimes, technology is just too late or has too many things working against it. Maybe if it had come a few decades earlier, it could’ve been a bigger deal. It just entered a world that could not accommodate it.

That’s generally how I feel about 3D printed houses.

Now, a lot has been made about 3D printing. It’s a legitimately exciting field that is producing real-world advances. It’s one of those emerging technologies that is just starting to grow. It’s already developing into a wealth of new fields and, with some refinement, this technology will have a profound impact.

When it comes to houses, though, I think it’s too late and too limited. That’s a shame too because housing is a real social issue. As of this writing, there is a major housing shortage from those actively seeking to buy new homes, as well as an ongoing homelessness problem that has plagued many major cities.

It’s true that we need to more homes and the current processes for making them just isn’t cutting it. The idea of using 3D printed homes is a novel method of addressing that issue, but I have a feeling this is one of those methods that just can’t get the job done.

That’s not because it doesn’t work. In recent years, the process has actually been refined considerably. It is now possible to erect one-story, 400 square-foot house in a manner of days at a cost of as little as $4,000 to $5,000 per unit. I know people whose monthly rent is higher than that.

This technology is real and there are people actually living in these houses. The problem isn’t the hardware, the software, the logistics, or even the materials. The problem is the nature of the market it’s trying to impact.

Mass producing houses is not like mass producing your typical widget. Just making lots of units isn’t going to drive down the price or the cost of living in them. Housing is one of those products that is constrained by forces beyond its control, namely location.

That old saying about location, location, location among realtors actually carries weight here. Even if a 3D printed house only costs $15,000 compared to a typical $115,000 unit of similar size, it’s not going to sell if it’s located in the middle of nowhere. People generally want to live close to where they work, where they grew up, and where their family resides.

That’s not a technical limitation.

That’s just human nature and market forces.

I say that as someone who has had to navigate that market. Several years ago, I bought my first home and I can attest that location matters more than style. Some of the homes I saw weren’t exactly appealing, but the price was right. There were also some very nice-looking units, but they were way out of the way for me.

It really didn’t matter to me whether the home was 3D printed or not. What mattered was its location, its proximity to important areas, and having connections to quality utilities. Those are all factors that 3D printing can’t do much to address.

Then, there are the building codes.

There are a lot of building codes.

Granted, those codes are there for a reason. They’re important with respect to ensuring your home won’t collapse on you one day, but they add complexity to the process. Even though 3D printed homes can be built up to code, they still add more moving parts to the process.

Even without those parts, there’s still the matter of general market forces. Like I said, housing is a unique product. You can make all the 3D houses you want. You can’t change the location or the nature of the land.

That’s why housing is so expensive in certain areas, like San Francisco and New York. The demand is high, but you can’t increase the amount of space for homes. Even if you used 3D printing to make all those homes as cheaply as possible, the demand will keep those prices high. You’ll still end up paying six figures for a unit that might have only cost a fraction of that to make.

You can call that unfair or price gouging all you want. That’s just what happens with market forces. When you have a limited amount of space to work with and a location that everyone wants to live in, it really doesn’t matter how cheap it is to make a home. The cost isn’t going to change that much.

That’s not to say this technology is completely useless. I can definitely see 3D printed houses serving a purpose, especially in areas that haven’t been well-developed over the past decades. I can also see it help with developing nations that need a cheap, quick way to make lots of units in an area with limited infrastructure. I just think that if you’re hoping for this technology to reduce the price of a home, you’re hoping for too much. Technology can do amazing things. It can take us to the stars, cure disease, and literally reshape the face of the planet. It just can’t do squat about basic market forces.

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Filed under futurism, technology

Why Ethereum Might Have More Value Than Bitcoin (In The Long Run)

Ethereum 2.0 Deposit Contract Surpasses $25 Billion Worth of ETH | Finance  Magnates

Nobody can predict the future. As someone who often talks about the future and future technology, I like to belabor that. It’s an important disclaimer because if the future were that easy to predict, then there would be no need for lotteries, fantsy sports, or the stock market.

It’s like my old political science professor once told me in college. Nobody knows anything. He said that in the context of a lesson about politics, but I think it also applies to many other fields. Technology, economics, and finance are definitely among them.

I’m certainly no expert in any of those fields. I like writing and telling sexy stories about technology. I’m not the least bit qualified to make informed predictions about it or any related subjects. I’m not dumb, but my expertise is limited to comics, sexy short stories, and football stats.

Having gotten that out of the way, I’d like to give a brief layman’s opinion about cryptocurrencies. I know that’s a chaotic subject, at the moment. The recent rise of multiple cryptocurrencies has made headlines, albeit for absurd reasons at times. However, I think it’s safe to say that this is not another passing internet fad in the mold of planking.

This technology has real value.

This technology is changing the world.

This technology will likely continue to evolve and improve with time.

I say this as someone who has followed the news surrounding cryptocurrencies for years. I also say that as someone who recently purchased his first stash of Bitcoins. As of this moment, I only have a few hundred bucks in my Bitcoin wallet. I’ve also seen the value fluctuate significantly. I’ve even had a chance to spend them, which was surprisingly smooth.

After this experience, I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged Bitcoin enthusiast. I’m not planning to invest all my money into Bitcoins anytime soon. However, I genuinely believe this technology has great value. I also believe it’ll become an integral part of our future, with respect to finance and the economy.

At the same time, I can’t help but note its limits. I’ve even highlighted a few of them before. Bitcoin has many benefits, but I think its value is somewhat skewed because it just happens to be the biggest in terms of market cap, as well as the most well-known cryptocurrency.

When most people think cryptocurrencies, the first thing they think of is Bitcoin. That gives it a huge benefit over other cryptocurrencies, of which there are many. That benefit is likely to fuel its value for years to come.

However, having used it and followed the growth of cryptocurrencies more closely in recent years, I do not believe it’s the most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. I also don’t think that Bitcoin, in its current form, will succeed beyond a certain point.

Many people compare Bitcoin to digital gold and I think that’s a fairly apt comparison. Bitcoin, like real gold, is mostly a store of value. That’s what it was designed to be and, for the most part, it fulfills that purpose well. A bar of gold and a stash of Bitcoins will function in primarily the same way.

In terms of value and utility, though, that’s where I think Bitcoin falls short. Even gold has more uses beyond being a store of value. I think if cryptocurrencies are to achieve more than just functioning as digital money, they need to do more.

For that reason, I believe Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency in terms of market value, may have more value in the long run. It’s not a meme currency like Dogecoin. The technology behind Ethereum actually makes use of the features that have made Bitcoin so valuable.

For those not familiar with Ethereum, it’s a cryptocurrency that’s similar to Bitcoin in many ways. It also uses blockchain technology to create a digital store of value. It has been operating since 2015 and has grown considerably in recent years. What sets it apart, though, is its ability to be programmed.

Whereas Bitcoin is mostly raw math and data, Ethereum is more like an operating system or a programming language. With it, users can create smart contracts, which are essentially digital contracts that are self-enforcing. That means no middleman or lawyers are needed to enforce a signed agreement.

For anyone who has ever had to deal with lawyers or contracts, it’s hard to overstate the value of such a feature. Since many contracts already involve money, Ethereum essentially tightens that connection. In the same way Bitcoin allows people to be their own bank, Ethereum allows them to be their own legal team.

In a world that has only become more connected and digitized, especially after a global pandemic, there’s considerable utility in that. I would argue that utility will make Ethereum more useful than Bitcoin in the long run.

That’s not to say it’ll eventually usurp Bitcoin or all other cryptocurrencies. I think Bitcoin will always benefit from the first, as well as the most well-known. I just think that benefit will only take it so far. Gold is useful, but it’s not nearly as useful as electricity, oil, or even steel. Those assets have tangible, measurable utility. Ethereum offers that on top of being a store of value.

Now, at the moment, smart contracts and other programs run on Ethereum aren’t exactly mainstream. That’s to be expected. This technology is still relatively new. People aren’t quite sure what to do with it yet.

Then again, the same could’ve been said back in the mid-2000s when smartphones came out. It took a while for developers and entrepreneurs to create the kinds of applications that would go onto make billions. It wasn’t just one app or one use. The phones were just a platform. The value came once people started building things atop that foundation.

With Bitcoin, there’s not much of a foundation. Its only app is as a store of value. That’s akin to a flip-phone, which can only make phone calls and store numbers. Granted, even flip phones still have utility, but they’ll never be able to do what a basic smartphone can do.

I don’t pretend to know what sort of applications or programs Ethereum could help create. It’ll probably take more than one for it to truly show its value. I also don’t pretend to know when those sorts of applications or programs will come along. The potential is there. It’s up to people far smarter and more ambitious than most of us to realize it.

I could still be dead wrong about this. Given the malleable nature of cryptocurrencies, it may be the case that Bitcoin eventually gains the same function as Ethereum. For all I know, an entirely new cryptocurrency could emerge that’s better and more valuable than any created to date. That’s entirely possible. Like I said, nobody knows anything about what the future will hold. We just know we’re creating some incredibly valuable tools with cryptocurrencies. We just haven’t figured out how to maximize their value. One day, we will and we’ll all be richer because of it.

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Filed under Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, futurism, technology

The Metaverse: What It Is, Why It Matters, And Why You Should Be Concerned About FaceBook’s Plans For It

So what is “the metaverse,” exactly? | Ars Technica

There was a time, not too long ago, when if you said words like “email,” “texting,” “hashtag,” and “internet” to most people, they wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. I am old enough to remember when the internet was only a fringe interest, known only to computer nerds and tech gurus.

Yes, that makes me feel older than I wish it did, but that helps illustrate my point.

Now, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know what the internet was or what a hashtag entailed. These have all become parts of our lives, for better and for worse. Checking our email and texting our friends is just part of everyday life now. Most don’t even give it a second thought.

It should give us all pause in the sense that we don’t always know when some new technology or trend becomes that integral with our lives. We usually don’t realize it until many years after we’ve embraced it to such an extent that life before it seems strange by comparison.

At this very moment, we may be at such a state with an emerging technology called the metaverse. You’ve probably heard of it, if only in passing. The recent news surrounding FaceBook’s pending name change is at the heart of it, but who can honestly say they know what it is or why it matter?

I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on the metaverse. I am not the most qualified to explain it to most ordinary people. However, as someone who does follow this kind of tech news closer than most, I think it’s worth discussing. I also feel like the concept of the “metaverse” is in a similar position that we saw with the early internet.

In terms of basics, the metaverse is basically a more ambitious form of virtual reality. It’s not quite on the level of “The Matrix,” but it’s a lot more varied than a standard model of the Oculus Rift. It’s not just for playing games or creating elaborate avatars for ourselves. This is supposed to be something more personal.

According to an article in NPR, the metaverse is described as this.

Think of it as the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen. Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.

It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.

That may not seem too revolutionary at the moment. Then again, you probably could’ve said the same thing about email and texting back in 1994. It’s so new and poorly understood that most people don’t see the appeal or the potential, but I personally believe the metaverse represents an evolution of the internet, as we know it.

I also believe we should be very concerned that FaceBook, of all companies, is trying to be at the forefront of it all. To say that FaceBook has a credibility problem would be like saying a sewage plant has an odor problem.

In many respects, I don’t blame FaceBook for investing in the metaverse. Like every tech company, they’re looking to the future. They’re seeking the next big thing that they can develop, dominate, and monetize to the utmost. It doesn’t matter that they’re already a billion-dollar company. There are many more billions to be made in the metaverse, if not trillions.

If anything, the potential of that market intensified in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, we all learned just how critical it is to stay connected to the internet. It wasn’t just a form of entertainment anymore. It became vital to continue working and going to school. Many even realized just how much they could get done from home with nothing except a computer and an internet connection.

With the metaverse, we could potentially do even more. One of the big limitations that the pandemic also revealed is the inherent limitations of a screen. While applications like Zoom and FaceTime allowed us to interact, it was still so impersonal. It didn’t have the same impact of being in someone’s physical presence.

The same limitations go beyond work and school. Even though we do a lot of shopping online these days, there are times when we can’t do everything we would usually do in a store. I can personally attest that buying a good pair of shoes or a dress shirt online can be a gamble. Even when you think you got the right size, it doesn’t always fit when you get it.

The metaverse could help change that. It could help us explore the internet in ways that go beyond a typical screen. It could help us create Zoom meetings that feel more like gatherings around a conference table. It could make shopping feel more like browsing a physical space, complete with more personalized selections.

It could even make for more engaging entertainment. Instead of just staring at a screen and watching a game play out, we could actually feel like we’re present and play a larger part of what happens.

Yes, that will likely include porn.

Yes, that will likely cause discomfort, distress, and all sorts of other issues that will get certain prudish crowds fired up.

No, that won’t stop the metaverse from evolving.

In the beginning, it probably won’t feel like that much an upgrade over how we interact with the internet at the moment. Chances are it’ll probably start off looking like something akin to “Second Life,” a game where people create and interact in their own virtual world. It’s a big idea, but it still looks like a game.

That will change as the interface and computing power improve. At some point, it’ll get to a point where going into the metaverse won’t feel at all like a game. The imagery and graphics could ultimately get so life-like that it’ll be hard to distinguish from the real thing. Going to a store in the metaverse could appear no different than going to a mall, at least from your brain’s perspective.

It won’t just stop at appearing lifelike, either. Add in more advanced interfaces, like the ones being developed by Neuralink, and there may come a time when going to the metaverse will feel like going into “The Matrix.” Within that virtual space, what we could ultimately do would only be limited by our computing power and network connection.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

However, keep in mind that much of these possibilities will be developed, packaged, and sold by FaceBook. This is already a company we know engages in shady business dealings, to say the least. We also know they’re not exactly careful with our private information. The idea of them being in control of this new virtual world should be concerning to everyone.

Thankfully, they’re not the only ones seeking to develop the metaverse. Other major tech companies are already making investments in creating this new virtual space. Will that be enough to ensure FaceBook and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t the undisputed overlords of the virtual world? I don’t know, but I hope there’s some semblance of balance in that world. As much as I’d like to explore that world, I’d be quite hesitant if doing so meant entrusting the integrity of the metaverse to a company like FaceBook.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, Neuralink, technology

Recent Advances In Nuclear Fusion (And Why We Should Cheer Them On)

Nuclear fusion: Building a star on Earth is hard, which is why we need  better materials

There a great many technological advancements that are touted as “game changing” or “revolutionary,” but very few end up delivering on that promise. I still remember all the hype surrounding the Segway and the Virtual Boy.

Granted, these might have been just a byproduct of market hype, but there was a genuine belief that this technology would revolutionize the world. It just didn’t pan out.

I know I’ve discussed a number of technological advances that are very likely to deliver on that hype. I still believe that artificial intelligence, brain computer interfaces, and human enhancement will be true game changers for the future of humanity.

However, there’s one technology that I haven’t really touched on. Arguably, it’s the most needed technology in the world right now. It wouldn’t just revolutionize the world as we know it. It might literally save it.

That technology is nuclear fusion.

Now, there’s a reason I haven’t talked about it much, aside from it not being in any particular area of expertise for me. Nuclear fusion doesn’t exactly have a lot of sexy implications like AI or human enhancement. It also has a bit of a bad reputation among those who speculate about the future.

The running joke is that nuclear fusion is 30 years away and always will be.

If you’re not laughing, don’t worry. It’s not a very good joke and it’s not the least bit funny in the grand scheme of things. That’s because nuclear fusion, if we could get it to work on a large scale, would effectively solve the world’s energy problems. It would largely eliminate the need for oil, coal, natural gas, and most other forms of energy.

If it sounds too good to be true, then you’re starting to get the joke. However, this is no magical fantasy power source on par with Dilithium Crystals. Fusion power is very real. We feel it every day. It’s what powers the sun. It’s what powers all the stars we see in the night sky.

Most people who passed high school physics know what fusion is. Basically, you take a bunch of hydrogen atoms, the most abundant element in the universe, and fuse them together under tremendous pressure and heat. The end result is helium, the second most abundant energy in the universe, and a whole lot of energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, which splits larger atoms into smaller atoms, this form of power doesn’t rely on heavy radioactive elements. As such, it produces next to no waste or greenhouse emissions. It also allows us to use seawater as fuel, since all you need is hydrogen. As a power source, it is as close to perfect as you can get.

Naturally, countless engineers and scientists have spent years trying to make fusion a viable power source. For decades, it was promised to be the ultimate solution to our energy needs. However, no matter how many times someone said viable fusion was close, it never came to be. That’s where its reputation as always being 30 years away came from.

On top of that, fusion research has had a few famous frauds. The whole failure of cold fusion was not a good look for the industry. I suspect that affair convinced too many people that we would never have fusion.

Now, there are some legitimate engineering and scientific reasons for why fusion has been so difficult. Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not qualified to explain those reasons. I’ll just say that it often comes back to making a fusion reaction self-sustaining and containing the massive heat required to keep that reaction going.

These are not challenges that require us to break the laws of physics. These are mostly engineering challenges that require study, refinement, and new materials. In the same way you can’t expect blacksmith’s from the 17th century to make a modern car, you can’t expect our current engineers to make a fusion reactor without the necessary components.

Despite what jokes and skeptics may say, we have made real progress. Very recently, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that utilized high energy lasers set a new energy record. That may not mean much to the average person and it certainly doesn’t mean that fusion has been perfected. It just means we’re getting closer to that magical break-even point.

That’s the point where the energy we get out of the fusion reaction is greater than what we put into it. To date, plenty of labs have created nuclear fusion reactions. They just take way more energy than they give off. Over the years, that difference has gotten smaller and smaller. Once it crosses that break-even point, then we have fusion and that will be a game-changer.

I cannot overstate just how much the world needs that kind of game-changer right now and I’m not just referring to the lingering damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year, we get increasingly dire reports from the IPCC about the impacts of climate change. Despite what politicians and oil lobbyists say, we’re fueling these impacts with our reliance on fossil fuels.

Fusion, once refined and scaled, could do more than anything to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. It might not eliminate fossil fuels completely, but it will make them far less necessary for all the energy we need in the present and the future. I would even go so far as to say that nuclear fusion might be the only way to adequately power the future we’re trying to build.

That’s why it’s not helpful to make jokes about how fusion is always 30 years away.

Instead, this might be the best possible time to actively cheer on the people working on nuclear fusion. Only one of them needs to succeed at getting to the break-even point. Only one of them needs to succeed at making a viable fusion reactor. At that point, the world will start changing in a profound way.

It won’t happen all at once, but it will be one of the most welcome and overdue advancements in recent memory. I certainly hope that this advancement happens sooner rather than later. If nothing else, it’ll make the world feel less dire so that the other, sexier advances in technology can proceed.

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The Promise, Perils, And Potential Of Elon Musk’s New Tesla Worker Robots

Tesla Promised a Robot. Was It Just a Recruiting Pitch? | WIRED

We’ve all had jobs that are laborious, boring, and repetitive. In fact, for most of human history, those were pretty much the only jobs there were. If you didn’t spend 12 hours a day in a field or factory, doing the same thing again and again, you didn’t have what you needed to survive. Only royalty and the wealthy got to enjoy leisure of any kind.

These days, those types of jobs are still there. Even though we live in an age of increasing automation, there are still plenty of jobs that are hard, repetitive, and draining. Anyone who works in an Amazon warehouse can attest to this.

I have some personal experience with those jobs. I once worked a job at a fast-food restaurant that probably could’ve been done by a trained monkey. I hated it and wouldn’t want my children having to do that kind of work. The fact that many people still have to work these jobs to make endsmeat is tragic.

The prospect of eliminating these jobs with technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence has always been intriguing. I’ve written about it before, both the artificial intelligent aspect of it and the social implications. Unlike other ideas about the future or future technology, this is one trend that’s already happening. Automation is a real thing and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

However, Elon Musk is once again looking to make another massive leap and enrich himself even more in the process. In addition to working on electric cars, commercial space flight, brain/computer interfaces, and flamethrowers, he now wants to create a legion of humanoid robot workers.

Basically, he wants to create the robots in “I, Robot,” minus the part where they go haywire and try to kill everyone. I wish I could say that was a joke, but we already have killer drones, so I think that would be in poor taste.

Musk made an official announcement of this effort on behalf of Tesla. Below is an excerpt of the story, courtesy of The Verge.

The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla is working on humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a humanoid robot and that it will build a prototype “sometime next year.” The humanoid robot will leverage Tesla’s experience with automated machines in its factories, as well as some of the hardware and software that powers the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software.

Musk, who has spoken repeatedly about his fears of runaway artificial intelligence, said the Tesla Bot is “intended to be friendly,” but that the company is designing the machine at a “mechanical level” so that “you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it.” It will be five feet, eight inches tall, weigh 125 pounds, and have a screen for a face. The code name for the bot inside the company is “Optimus,” he said.

The robots will be designed to handle “tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring,” the company’s website reads, but little else, at least at first. (There, the bot is simply called “Tesla Bot.”) “I think essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can,” Musk said.

Musk revealed drawings of the robot near the tail end of his company’s “AI Day” event, where it showcased some of the artificial intelligence and supercomputer technologies that it’s working on with the goal of one day powering self-driving cars. The company also had a mannequin version on the stage, which wasn’t working.

Now, before I continue, I want to make a quick disclaimer. I am not about to gush over Elon Musk and anoint him the bringer of a new techno-utopia. He might be one of the world’s richest human beings, but even he has limitations. I know I’ve gushed over Elon Musk in the past, but I’ve since tempered some of my attitudes.

I’m aware that Musk has a reputation of overpromising and failing to deliver. The article even points that out. I’m also aware that Musk, like many billionaires, has done some shady things in the past. You really can’t get as rich and successful as him without being an asshole to some extent.

At the same time, you cannot overlook the man’s success. He didn’t invent the electric car any more than Steve Jobs invented the personal computer or the smartphone. He just took existing technology, combined it into a new product, and successfully marketed it in a way no other human being had done to that point. He was so good at it that he became even richer than he already was.

Like it or not, he succeeded. He thinks big and tries to deliver. Even when he fails, he gets people to push the envelope. He underestimated just how difficult it was to create a self-driving car. I have a feeling he’ll do the same with these robots.

However, I also think that he will do more than anyone to speed up the ongoing trends in automation. Like I said before, this is not some new, fanciful technology. Robots exist. They already work in factories, doing work that used to be done by humans. They aren’t humanoid, but that’s because they’re limited to just a single task.

These humanoid robots will offer something different. They’ll be able to perform a wider ranger of tasks. The robots that make cares can’t be reconfigured to make something else. These Tesla bots could at least begin that process. Even if it’s flawed and unsuccessful at first, that’s still progress. Pretty much all technological advances are like that in the beginning.

His timing here might actually be just right. In recent years, companies like Boston Dynamics have shown off just how capable robots have become. They’re no T-1000, but they’re getting to a point where they can walk, run, lift, and jump as well as an ordinary human. With some refinement, they’ll be able to do even more.

Just like he did with the electric car, Musk could create the first true fleet of robot workers. They wouldn’t be able to replace every human working a laborious job, but they would be able to take the place of some. At a time when there’s a growing labor shortage, there’s definitely going to be a market for that sort of thing.

Personally, I don’t think Musk is going to be able to deliver functional robot workers as quickly as he claims. However, I do think he’ll get the ball rolling for a new industry. He’ll demonstrate that this technology is possible and there’s a growing market for it. In the same way other companies have started making electric cars, they’ll also start making robot workers.

Even if he only succeeds in part, though, that does raise some major concerns. Stories about workers being exploited aren’t difficult to find and the COVID-19 pandemic only made those stories more relevant. I don’t doubt for a second that if companies could replace their workforce with robots and get the same production, they would do so in a heartbeat.

I suspect that some are already cheering Musk on behind the scenes. Those same people probably won’t give much thought to the larger implications of a robot workforce. The prospect of a large population of people who aren’t working, have no job prospects, and are unable to earn a proper living does not bode well for society.

While people like Musk have advocated for a universal basic income of sorts, the politics behind that are messy to say the least. Given how politics rarely seems to keep up with technology, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be ready for a robot workforce that does all the laborious jobs that people used to do. It’s definitely cause for concern. In that sense, perhaps it’s a good thing that what Musk seeks to do probably won’t work exceptionally well, at least at first. However, even if he fails, it’s only a matter of time and engineering before someone else succeeds. At that point, we won’t be able to avoid the larger implications.

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How Should A Robot Look Before You Welcome It Into Your Home?

karalunaria — ok so upon 3 minutes of google it's the mascot...

There was a time when people were skeptical about having a computer in their home. I know because I’m old enough to remember people like that. It wasn’t that they were paranoid about them, although a few certainly were. They just didn’t see the need.

Then, computers became smaller, more affordable, and more useful. They went from being these big, bulky machines that took up an entire corner of a room into being a sleek, decorative piece of hardware that did so much to improve our lives. From information to communications to masturbation, computers revolutionized our lives.

It’s a common trend in technology. When it’s new and undeveloped, people are wary about having it in their homes. Go back several decades and people felt the same way about television. Go back a century and some people were reluctant to allow electricity into their homes. It takes some people longer than others to come around, but they eventually do when the utility is just too great.

This brings me to robots and for once, I’m not referring to sex robots. While they could very well be part of this conversation, I’m going to set that kinky angle to this issue aside. Instead, I’m going to stick to robots in general, specifically the kind with a body and some mechanism for doing work.

We’ve watched in recent years how quickly robotics technology is advancing. A while back, I highlighted a video from Boston Dynamics that showed one of their robots dancing. Even before that, this same company demonstrated a robot that could run and navigate basic obstacles. While it was certainly no Terminator, it was still no Wall-E.

These robots exist. Every year, they’re being improved and refined. Within the next decade, it is likely we’ll have a robot that can move, react, and navigate its surroundings like a human. It may not have human level intelligence, but it will have the body to match our capabilities in every way.

When this day comes, the world will be a very different place. It’ll definitely raises issues regarding robot workers and robot soldiers, but that sort of impact won’t be as direct for most people. The real change will come when we have the ability to have a robot in our homes that can do almost any kind of work a human could do.

By that, I don’t just mean a virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri. We already have those and they’ve already become an increasingly popular feature for many homes. These assistants can help us with shopping lists, music playlists, and schedule reminders. They can’t do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, or make our beds.

Having a robot that could do all that would be nice. It would be like having a personal maid and a personal secretary. There’s certainly a market for it and the rise of virtual assistants has already laid the foundation for that market. However, that still raises some important questions.

How should that robot look before you welcome it into your home?

Ignore for a moment the paranoia about a robot turning evil. Assume, for the sake of argument, these robots are as functional as your typical Roomba. They don’t have advanced AI. They’re not sentient or self-aware on the same level as Rosie from “The Jetsons” or Hal 9000. They just these big tools that do all the work you’d expect of a maid, butler, or servant.

Would you welcome that robot into your home if it looked like one of the Boston Dynamics robots?

Would you welcome that robot into your home if it looked completely indistinguishable from humans, like Kara in “Detroit: Become Human?”

Would you want that robot to look only mostly human, but still be distinctly machine, like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation?”

These are all relevant questions if these robots are going to be part of our lives. For some people, a robot that looked too human might be too jarring. It would be difficult to see them and remember they’re just a robot. Some people might be fine with that, especially when sex robots are involved. However, for a robot that’s primarily a helper, that might not be ideal.

For robot servants, it might be more beneficial to everyone if they didn’t look too human. In fact, having a human-like body might even hinder a robots ability to do its job. That’s why most robots you see in factories don’t look human at all. They take the form of whatever helps them do their job.

Maybe a perfect robot housekeeper doesn’t look human. Maybe it looks more like a droid from “Star Wars” that has multiple arms, a head with a panoramic camera, and four legs like a dog. Depending on the home its in, it might even need to be able to adjust its height. Such a robot may be good at its task, but would it be too weird and bulky to allow in our homes?

No matter how human they look, these robots would have to appear to us in a way that we’re comfortable being around. We have to be willing to just leave them in our homes for most of the day, possibly with pets and children, and trust that they’ll do what we want them to do. That kind of trust will take time, just as it did with computers.

It may ultimately take longer to welcome a robot into our homes than we did with computers, but once the benefits and utility get to a certain point, it may be too appealing to ignore. I don’t claim to know what typical household robots will look like before then. I just know they’ll have to look a certain way for us to embrace them as part of our world. Naturally, we’ll still probably embrace sex robots sooner, but it won’t stop there. Robots will become a larger part of our lives eventually. They may end up having a greater impact than any new technology since electricity.

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It’s Official: I Am Ready For Self-Driving (And Self-Parking) Cars

There are a lot of emerging technologies that I genuinely hope I live long enough to see and I’m not just referring to sex robots. I’ve written about how certain technologies could open the door to a bold new world for humanity, as well as a few that could be the end of humanity as we know it.

Some of these advances are farther off than others.

Some are probably so advanced that I won’t live long enough to see them, but hopefully my kids will, if I’m able to have them.

One technology, however, is a lot closer than most realize. That technology is self-driving cars. I’ve talked about them before. It’s fair to say this is not some advanced speculative tech on par with warp drives and light sabres.

There are already working prototypes and advanced testing going on. While it’s far from becoming mainstream and there are real challenges we’ve yet to overcome, this technology is coming. It doesn’t break the rules of physics. It’s just a matter of time, investment, and refinement.

Well, after returning from my vacation this past week, I’m ready to make a larger statement about this technology. I try not to give too many personal opinions when I talk about this sort of thing, but I’m going to make an exception.

I’m very ready to embrace self-driving cars sooner rather than later.

I’m also very ready to embrace cars that can park themselves or just find a decent parking spot to begin with.

Why am I suddenly so eager to support this technology? The reason is simple. My travels this past week have reminded me just how much I dislike long drives on roads with little to know features. It also reminded me what a pain in the ass parking can be whenever I visit a major city like New York.

Just getting to my destination, navigating traffic jams and delays along the way, can be a test in frustration. It can also cause pain in my back from being so focused for extended periods. It can also drain me mentally, so much so that it’s hard to enjoy myself once I get to my destination.

I would absolutely love it if I could just get into a car, enter my destination, lay back, and sleep for most of the way. If I have to be awake, I’d love to use that as an opportunity to write some more sexy short stories or catch up on some shows. That would make me a lot more eager to travel and a lot more willing to go to more distant destinations.

At the same time, parking can be just as big a pain. This past week, I swear I spent a good half-hour just looking for parking and a good long while getting to it. It wasn’t cheap, either. That only compounds the pain.

It didn’t completely ruin my vacation, but it did temper it at times. I feel like everyone would enjoy a life with freer frustrations and self-driving cars can go a long way towards that. Say what you will about the technology or the companies behind it. When it eventually arrives, I’ll be the first to try it. If nothing else, I’ll be happy to just be able to enjoy the open road once again.

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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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