Tag Archives: technology and society

Whistleblower Confirms That Facebook Is Harmful: So What Do We Do About It?

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There are certain products in this world that we know are harmful, but use them anyway. Cars kill thousands every year through traffic accidents. Thousands die every year by overdosing on drugs that were legally prescribed to them. However, we still use these products because they are essential for our way of life.

With that in mind, I think most people already know that certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be harmful. You don’t need to look that hard to find harmful or damaging misinformation on Facebook. Having been in college at the time Facebook really took off, I think most people understood to some extent that this product could be used for immense harm.

So, was it really that surprising when a whistleblower came out and revealed just how much Facebook was aware of the damage they were doing? Just like tobacco companies before them, they could see that harm unfolding in real time. They just weren’t willing to take the kinds of steps that would hinder their profits.

They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They want to keep making billions for years to come. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the nature/flaw of capitalism.

In case you haven’t been following this story, the fallout from this whistleblower’s revelations are still unfolding. If you want details on the story, here is what NPR reported:

NPR: Whistleblower to Congress: Facebook products harm children and weaken democracy

Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms [they] caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Haugen will urge lawmakers to take action to rein in Facebook, because, she says, it won’t do so on its own. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she will say.

There’s much more to the article, but I singled out this excerpt because it effectively sums up the situation. Again, most reasonable people probably suspected that a platform like Facebook was doing real harm to public discourse and the psychology of teenagers, especially girls. It’s still nice to have confirmation.

As someone who uses Facebook, I can attest to its harms. There is some pretty toxic crap throughout the site, as well as some equally toxic people. Sadly, some of that toxicity comes from friends and relatives sharing content, often of a political nature, that gets people upset and outraged. That’s not a bug, either. According to the whistleblower, that’s entirely on purpose.

Now, in the interest of maintaining some kind of perspective, I’m inclined to remind everyone where that content on Facebook comes from. Remember, they’re not the one’s producing it. They’re just the platform. It’s the users and the people who are creating that. It’s people willing to lie, denigrate, demean, and troll who create the content that makes Facebook and social media so toxic.

To blame Facebook entirely for these harms is like blaming car manufacturers for traffic fatalities. At the end of the day, the car itself doesn’t cause the harm. It’s the person using it.

That being said, Facebook is not a car, nor should we treat it like one. It’s also not a tobacco company and we shouldn’t treat it like that, either. Facebook doesn’t create a tangible product that we can hold in our hands to harm ourselves, nor is it a chemical we willingly put in our bodies. It’s a digital service that we engage with and, in turn, it engages with us.

From that exchange, real harm is possible. This whistleblower confirms that and, based on the available information, I think the data presented is valid. That still leaves one question to ponder.

What do we do about Facebook and other companies like it?

That’s still an unresolved question and one that too many people try to answer bluntly. Shortly after this story came out, the ever-popular #DeleteFacebook hashtag started trending. However, I doubt anything will come of that. I’ve seen that hashtag trend on multiple occasions and it has done little to affect Facebook’s growth.

These revelations are bad, but I doubt they’ll be enough to bring Facebook down completely. They may lose subscribers and revenue in the short-term, but they’ll adapt and grow in the long run. You don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without being able to adapt in lieu of bad press.

At the same time, I think we should take some action to mitigate the impact of Facebook and social media. What could that entail? I’m not smart enough to offer a comprehensive answer, but I do know the extremes people are throwing around just won’t work.

For one, Facebook can’t be banned or shuttered. It makes too much money and it would set a dangerous precedent for every business, online or otherwise. It’s also probably grossly unconstitutional, at least in western democracies like the United States and Britain.

Even if it were banned, people would find a way to get around it. Just look at the countries that have tried to ban porn. People still find a way to get it.

Others have thrown around ideas like splitting up Facebook, just like America once did with oil companies and phone companies. That would certainly be extreme and there are precedents for doing so. However, would that really change how Facebook and social media are utilized by real people? Would those not satisfied with the newly broken up Facebook simply create something similar under a different name?

The most logical recourse might just involve demanding that Facebook make the changes they refused to make, according to the whistleblower. They could also be subject to major fines and taxes, as we’ve done before with tobacco. Will those measures be effective? I don’t know, but I’m skeptical, to say the least.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. I also think that, even if governments did implement new measures on social media companies to combat their harms, both the companies and the users would find a way around it. Both sides are just too motivated at this point.

I still believe there’s a better solution. I just don’t know what it is and if anyone has one to offer, please share it in the comments. In the meantime, I guess the best recourse we can all do is to just be careful about what we place on Facebook and be more mindful of the content we consume.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, technology

When Parents Look As Young As You: Speculation And Implications

Can aging be reversed? | Wall Street International Magazine

A while back, I was sifting through some old pictures and I found a few of my parents when they were younger. Some of those pictures were a bit faded, but some held up remarkably well. A few in particular depicted my dad when he was in his 20s. It was fun, seeing how my parents looked in their youth. They certainly had plenty of stories behind each picture.

Beyond the stories, there was also the uncanny resemblance. My dad in his 20s looked a lot like me and my brother do now. I definitely have my dad’s facial structure. More than one relative has commented how similar we look whenever I share a picture of us.

My brother definitely inherited my dad’s old hair style. There’s this one picture of my dad in a hammock with long, uncut hair and it looks eerily identical to how my brother styles his hair. Overall, you can definitely see the resemblance.

Naturally, peoples’ appearances change as they age. It’s a normal thing. We can all marvel at how our parents looked in their youth, but that doesn’t change how different they look now. Most people don’t have the luxury of looking like Keanu Reeves in their 50s. As they get older, age will affect their appearance, their energy levels, and their mental state.

With all due respect to my wonderful parents, their age does show. When we stand together for family pictures, you can tell who’s the parent and who are the kids, even though my brother and I are full adults. I don’t doubt my age will start showing soon enough. It already has in some respects.

However, what happens if we suddenly gain the ability to either stop aging at a certain point or completely reverse it?

What if our parents could look the same age as us when we turn 30?

How would that affect us personally?

How would that affect us as a society?

These are not entirely rhetorical questions. It may sound like something that requires futuristic technology, but it’s not as far fetched as we think. Reversing or stopping the aging process in living things isn’t like breaking the speed of light. We know it can be done because there are animals that do it all the time.

Certain species of turtles never seem to age out of their adult prime. Other species basically age in reverse. In biology, it’s called negligible senescence and it’s a subject of significant interest for the treatment of aging. While humans do have a lifespan that seems built into our biology, we’re steadily developing the tools to hack that biology.

The technology is new and unrefined, but the incentives for developing it have never been greater. We already have an aging population. Helping people live into their 90s is nice, but what good is living that long if you can’t enjoy life as you did in your youth?

That technology is still a ways off, but like I said before. There’s no hard rule of biology or physics that prevents us from reversing the effects of aging. The research into the mechanisms of reversing aging altogether is ongoing and anyone who develops treatments are sure to gain a chunk of the multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.

How and when this technology becomes mainstream is difficult to predict, but if and when it does, it raises some major implications. Setting aside the issues that come about from a population that doesn’t get weaker or less energetic with age, what does that do to how we carry ourselves around family?

That’s a personal impact of this technology that I don’t think enough people contemplate, mostly because they think it’s impossible. However, there are people alive today who may live long enough to see this technology mature. At that point, they’ll have to deal with having parents that look the same age as they do once they turn 30.

Imagine, for a moment, going to a restaurant with your parents. To you, they’re your parents and you know that. To everyone else, however, you’re just three people hanging out at a restaurant. If you look the same age, how can you tell the difference between a family getting dinner and a bunch of friends hanging out?

Things can easily get more complicated and awkward from there. Imagine you’re a guy meeting your mother for lunch or a girl meeting her father for coffee. From the outside, you don’t look like a parent and child. You might look like a couple on a date. I can only imagine how tense waiters might feel if they find out a cute couple are actually parent and child.

Add grandparents who don’t age to the equation and the complications only compound. When your family unit becomes indistinguishable from a co-ed dorm in college, how does that affect your perspective? Beyond the awkward realizations that the cute girl you’re hitting on is as old as your grandmother, how do parents and kids relate to one another when they look alike at a certain point?

As kids, we know our parents are our parents because they’re older than us. Even as adults, most of us reserve some level of respect and reverence for both our parents and elders. Just looking older will garner a certain reaction. What happens when technology removes appearance from the equation entirely?

We all know young people who are wise beyond their years and old people who are as dumb as a kid. When we all look the same age, those distinctions will become blurred and muddled. How that affects our personal perspectives, as well as our society in general, is difficult to fathom at the moment. Given the rapid pace of biotechnology and all the money at stake, that moment might come sooner than we think. As such, we should start preparing ourselves for the awkwardness that’s sure to follow.

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Filed under biotechnology, futurism, technology

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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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, robots, technology, Thought Experiment

My Thoughts On Facebook And #DeleteFacebook

Here is how to delete Facebook | TechCrunch

There are certain people, groups, and companies that are difficult to defends. It’s not impossible, as is the case with tobacco companies, criminal organizations, and whoever designs unskippable video ads. It’s just difficult and I’m certainly not qualified to carry out such with any real expertise.

I’m just not that smart or informed.

I make that disclaimer because I’m about to defend a company that doesn’t have a stellar reputation, to say the least. If anything, their name and its famous founder have gained such a negative connotation that they’re just a few steps away from being a tobacco company. Given how one actually sells products that gives people cancer, that’s saying something.

That company is Facebook. I know that just typing that word out for people to read is going to garner a reaction and not in a good way.

I get that. I really do. I’m very much aware of some of the many scandals and shady dealings that Facebook has engaged in since its inception. I’m also aware of the objectively negative impacts that Facebook has had on certain people. That’s not something I can defend, nor would I want to.

There are any number of bad things about Facebook and its impact that I can go over. However, there is one important aspect to those things that I would like to highlight. I don’t think it constitutes a defense of Facebook or its practices, but some may construe it as such. I’m still going to point it out, if only to add some perspective. It all comes down to this.

Facebook is still just a tool. At some point, all its damaging ills are on us, the users, and not the company.

I understand that’s an unpopular sentiment. It’s not that dissimilar from what gun advocates say about guns. Like any inanimate object, it’s not deadly or damaging until somebody willfully uses it. That’s certainly true to some extent. It’s just a matter of the extent that people disagree on.

However, Facebook is not akin to a firearm or some tool that can actually be used to cause tangible, physical harm to someone. It’s a website/software program. Using it requires people to go out of their way to access it. In addition, getting any meaningful use out of it requires active engagement. It’s not just something you can give to a kid and they would easily figure it out.

It can still be damaging, but in a very different way. Like it or not, some of those ways are ultimately our responsibility and not that of Facebook. I know it’s just a lot easier to criticize the company, its practices, and the conduct of its founder, Mark Zuckerburg. That doesn’t change the actual nature of the product.

Yes, there is objectively toxic content on Facebook that degrades, demeans, and deceives people.

However, that toxic content doesn’t come directly from Facebook. It comes from us.

I bring this up because I saw the hashtag, #DeleteFacebook, trending again. That seems to happen several times a year, often after a new scandal or in wake of an unpopular decision. It’s becoming so routine that it’s hard to take seriously.

On top of that, the hashtag rarely accomplishes anything. Despite all the scandals and negative press, the overall usership of Facebook is still growing. As of this writing, it has approximately 2.85 billion users. Criticism and hashtags aside, it hasn’t kept the company from growing. It hasn’t made Mark Zuckerberg any less rich and influential.

I know hashtags are notorious for presenting a false reality to those who seek it, but this particular hashtag has become more a virtue signal than an actual protest. More and more these days, the hashtag has become less about Facebook’s unscrupulous business practices and more about protesting Big Tech, as they’re called.

While there’s certainly a place for protesting the practices of large, powerful corporations, I feel like the substance of that effort gets lost in virtue signaling. People are more inclined to just whine about how bad Facebook is and say how much better their lives are after deleting it. It’s rare for anyone to actually highlight a substantive policy or practice that warrants protest. It’s all about people saying, “Look at me! I gave up Facebook, so I’m better than you!”

I know that’s a simplistic statement that doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m sure there are people whose lives did improve after deleting their Facebook account. At the same time, there are people whose lives are still enriched by Facebook.

Personally, I’ve met great people through Facebook. I’ve also been able to keep up with friends and family that I never would’ve been able to keep up with. I genuinely value those connections. They even prove critical when there’s a major family crisis that everyone is trying to keep up with. That happened several years back when my grandmother got sick. It happened more recently with helping my father connect with other relatives during the pandemic.

Facebook can be used for good. Like any tool, it can have a positive impact on its users. It’s just a matter of how it’s used.

There will always be people who seek to use any tool for something wrong, deviant, or nefarious. We don’t criticize ski masks the same way we criticize Facebook and for good reason. At the end of the day, it comes back to the individuals using it.

Again, that doesn’t excuse some of the shady things the company has done over the years. I’m not defending that. This extended rant is just me reminding people that some of the worst parts of Facebook only exist because of us, the users. At some point, we have to take responsibility for that. We can’t expect a multi-billion dollar software company to do it for us.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, rants, technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What side would this system be on?

Moreover, who decides what position these AI systems take?

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

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

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

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

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

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

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

How Many Streaming Services Can We (Realistically) Have?

It’s official. The streaming wars are on.

Hell, it’s been official for the past several years and 2020 only accelerated it. The battle to dominate digital media in all forms is raging on multiple fronts and while many have their favorites, none can say they’ve won.

It’s Netflix versus Hulu versus Amazon versus Disney versus CBS/Viacom versus YouTube versus whatever other media companies are fighting for every possible eyeball. The stakes are high for consumers and content creators alike. There are billions in profits to be made and plenty of epic, culture-defining content to be made. It’s going to get intense is what I’m saying.

I don’t think I need to remind everyone just how much the streaming market has changed in the past 10 years. Even if you’re still a teenager, chances are you still vaguely remember the days before Netflix and chill. Media back then was movies, TV, and Blu-Ray/DVD collections. I’m not saying it was ideal, but that’s what we had to work with.

Then, Netflix came along and changed everything.

Then, every company and their deep-pocketed subsidiaries tried to catch up.

It hasn’t always been smooth. Some people are still not over “The Officeleaving Netflix. Chances are there will be more upheavals like that as companies fight over who streams what and who has the streaming rights to a particular show or movie. That’s sure to get messy and I’m not smart enough to make sense of it.

However, as this war rages, I think there’s a relevant question worth asking. It’s a question that I’m sure both consumers like me and big media companies like Netflix and Disney ask as well. The answer could depend on how the war plays out.

How many streaming services can the average customer have?

Most people already pay for some form of streaming media. Most people subscribe to some form of pay TV, although that trend is in flux. The days of having all the entertainment you want with a simple cable subscription alongside Netflix is long gone and it’s not coming back.

Now, you have to be very selective and self-aware of what you want.

Do you want access to Disney’s vast library of content?

Do you want access to the library of shows from NBC or CBS?

Do you want access to the content from Warner Brothers, Universal, Dreamworks, Discovery, Cartoon Network, or 20th Century Fox?

You can have some, but you can’t have them all without paying way more than you ever would for cable. Even if you did, could you even watch all those streaming services enough to justify the cost? There are only so many hours in a day and there’s only so much attention we have to give. Even if we dedicated half our day to binging movies and TV, we couldn’t watch it all.

That’s the big limiting factor on streaming. It’s also the biggest obstacle any company faces with respect to their effort in the streaming wars. People can only watch so much and they only have so much they can reasonably spend on a streaming service. There comes a point where, even if the content is appealing, they just can’t justify the cost.

Personally, I have subscriptions to five streaming services. They are as follows:

Netflix

Hulu

Amazon Prime

Disney Plus

HBO Max

Now, it’s worth noting that I got HBO Max through my cable subscription. I’ve subscribed to HBO for years so it’s not something I consciously sought out. With Amazon Prime, I primarily used it for the 2-day shipping instead of streaming media, but I’ve certainly found some quality shows on that platform.

I’m not sure I can justify another subscription beyond this. Once my subscriptions cannot be counted on one hand anymore, I think that’s too much. I just cannot watch enough content to warrant paying extra. I say that knowing companies like Paramount and NBC have just launched their own streaming services.

Even though both networks include shows that I love, I’ve no intention of buying their streaming service. If my cable company offers it for free, like it did with HBO, then that’s great. I’ll certainly watch it, but I’m not paying extra.

I feel like a lot of people are in that boat. If they don’t have a cable subscription, then they’re already trying to save money and paying more for a streaming package just defeats the purpose. If they do have cable, then they’re probably not willing to pay more for something they’re already paying too much for.

It’s a tougher situation and one that I’m sure will get tougher in the coming years. It’s not cheap to run a streaming service. The profit margins can be thin if you don’t have the content. There’s a good chance that some streaming services will either fail or get absorbed into another, like CBS All Access did.

Then, there are the pirates and no, I’m not talking about the ones with eye-patches.

Before Netflix streaming, pirating copyrighted content was already pretty rampant. Since the streaming wars began, there has been an uptick in pirated streaming content. That is also likely to intensify the more fragmented the streaming market becomes. If people are really that unwilling to pay a whole subscription to watch just a single show, they will resort to piracy. It’s still distressingly easy.

That’s why this question matters, both for us and the companies who provide our entertainment. I don’t claim to know how it’ll play out. By the time it settles, there might be another major upheaval in the media to supplant it. Whatever happens, I feel like I’ve reached the limit on the number of streaming subscriptions I have.

That’s just me, though. What about you?

How many streaming services do you have and are you willing to pay for another? Our collective answer could very well change the course of the streaming wars.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology, technology, television

Our Future Robot Overlords Will Now Be Able To Dance (Thanks To Boston Dynamics)

As bad as last year was for so many people, there were some things that 2020 just couldn’t stop. When it comes to technology, a global crisis has a way of hindering certain processes while accelerating others. For many, that meant more telework and reliance on streaming media to stave off boredom.

However, it may very well end up being the case that 2020 proved just how frail human beings and their societies are. It only takes a tiny microscopic virus to send our entire society to a screeching halt. It’s sobering, but it’s probably going to be a source of humor for our future robot overlords.

I tend to be optimistic about the future and technological trends. I’m also somewhat of a pragmatist. I realize that we human beings have a lot of limits. Emerging technology, especially in the field of artificial intelligence, promises to help us transcend those limits.

Right now, it’s still mostly fodder for science fiction writers, futurists, and Elon Musk wannabes. We’re not quite there yet in terms of making a machine that’s as smart as a human. However, we’re probably going to get there faster than skeptics, naysayers, and the general public realize.

It won’t happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen in the span of a single year. When it does happen, though, hindsight will make it painfully obvious that the signs were there. This was bound to happen. We had ample time to prepare for it. Being fallible humans, we could only do so much.

In that sense, I suspect that years from now, we’ll look back on what Boston Dynamics did to close out 2020. This company, who has a history of making robots that look way too advanced to exist outside a Terminator movie, decided to do something with their robots that would leave an indellible mark on the year.

They succeeded by teaching their robots how to dance.

I know it already went viral, but it’s worth posting again. Remember this video and this moment. Chances are it’ll be a major indicator years from now that this is when robots began catching up to humanity in terms of capabilities. At this point, it’ sonly a matter of time before they exceed us.

When that time comes, will we be ready? Will we embrace them while they embrace us?

If they don’t, just know that they will now be able to dance on our graves.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, futurism, 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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How Jar Jar Binks Exposed The Flaws (And Dangers) Of Social Media

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Every now and then, something extraordinary happens that reveals how flawed our current system is and how far behind we are in terms of fixing it. Sometimes, it’s tragic. Sometimes, it’s frustrating. In rare cases, it’s hilarious, albeit in a distressing way. Personally, I find those cases most revealing.

Recently, there was one notable instance that included one of the most reviled fictional characters of the past 20 years. No, I’m not talking about King Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. I’m talking about Jar Jar Binks. If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, then that name likely inspires all sorts of anger, dread, and distress.

Jar Jar is both a joke and a cautionary tale. Aside from proving that George Lucas has no business directing another “Star Wars,” he demonstrates just how wrong an attempt at comedic relief can go. While he wasn’t the only problem with the prequels, he augmented the flaws. On top of being annoying, incoherent, and incompetent most of the time, he was a major symptom of a much larger disease.

Once again, everything that makes Jar Jar such a pariah in the cultural landscape has exposed another disease in a place that’s not far, far away. For reasons that many found confusing and confounding, Jar Jar started trending on Twitter. While there was a someone legitimate reason for this, it was indirect and unintentional. There was no concerted effort to get him trending. It wasn’t even part of any elaborate trolling.

The fact that it took a while to explain why this infamous character was trending says more about social media than it does about Jar Jar. There’s no question that social media has changed the media landscape in ways that cannot be overstated. We current live in a world where companies invest a great deal of time and resources into making their presence on social media unique. Some definitely do it better than others.

At the same time, social media has not always had a positive effect on the world and its users. There have been plenty of cases where social media has been used to brutally harass people and spread blatant lies. There are even some cases in which social media played a role in directing real harm to innocent people. The dangers are there and well-documented.

Most people with an internet connection know those dangers are there. Many see it as the cost of doing business for a technology that has an uncanny ability to connect people. I certainly pay that cost, given my own presence on social media. However, what just happened with Jar Jar on Twitter demonstrated that the cost might have hidden fees in the fine print.

Remember, there was no concerted effort to get Jar Jar trending. Even after he did, nobody could figure out why he was trending. On top of that, the fact that nobody could figure it out only got people more curious, which made him trend even more. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that was funny in some respects, but distressing in many others.

It’s somewhat similar to what happens with people who are famous just for being famous and little more. This unfortunate, but inescapable aspect of celebrity culture rarely creates people who garner respect or admiration. If anything, they foster cynicism and disconnection from the culture. That kind of fame just feels so random, unearned, and empty. Thanks to Jar Jar, we now know social media trends can do the same.

Things can trend for no discernible reason. Matters that nobody even wants to get trending can garner unexpected and often unwanted attention. Thanks to the mechanisms of social media, the mystery behind why something trends can make it trend even more. While that’s going on, legitimate issues that warrant attention can slip under the radar.

Human beings only have so much attention to give. When something like Jar Jar trends for no discernible reason, a non-significant chunk of our collective attention is redirected. It would be one thing if it were just some masterfully act of trolling, but this is something we do to ourselves collective. That means we have no one to blame but ourselves when something like Jar Jar trends.

We’re the ones who make and share these hashtags. The social media companies are just tools and businesses. Like many companies, they’ll engage in plenty of shady activities. They’ll do whatever they think will make them more money. At the end of the day, though, we’re still the consumers who shape social media.

That should be cause for concern because this isn’t vapid celebrity culture we’re dealing with. The things that trend on social media have real-world consequences. Companies have suffered significant harm. Lives of non-celebrity people have been ruined. A random person who becomes famous for no reason rarely causes actual harm to anyone. Social media trends can do so much more.

In some cases, it can cause a great deal of good. If the right thing gets trending, it can rally people to a worthy cause. It can also inform the public of a serious issue. It can even turn real-world tragedies into a powerful force for good. Personally, I think this good overshadows the bad, but when I see Jar Jar trending, I can’t deny that there’s a flaw in this system.

Is there a fix? I believe there is, but I don’t believe it’s as simple as companies tweaking their rules or insulting people who share hash tags. Jar Jar may have been a source of frustration in the early 2000s, but he’s only relevant in 2019 because we make him relevant. It’s not him. It’s not George Lucas. This is all us.

I believe we’re better than that. Despite all the awful things I’ve seen trending on Twitter and Facebook, I see far more positives that warrant far greater attention. Jar Jar might be a symptom, but I take comfort in the fact that he’s a symptom that often burns out quickly. When something is empty, people get bored of it much easier and nobody should ever underestimate the power of boredom.

In the grand scheme of things, Jar Jar trending for no reason isn’t necessarily a setback. It’s just a sign that we, as a tech-savvy society, have a long way to go with respect to managing social media. In an imperfect world, dumb things will trend for dumb reasons. However, when something like Jar Jar starts trending, that’s a sign that we have plenty of room for improvement.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, Star Wars, technology, War on Boredom