On Ray Kurzweil and Thinking


I was reading a current article by Ray Kurzweil in this month’s edition of The Futurist and it got me to thinking a little. Here are a few random synapse connections from me.

He talked about how the digital neocortex will be be much faster than my wet-ware and that the roughly 300 million pattern recognisers in our biological neocortex will allow us to think in the cloud, using billions or trillions of pattern recognisers.  The IQ part of my brain thinks this could be amazing, although I would worry about dendrite overload or glutamic acid over stimulation, which is associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. It’s one thing to connect my brain or nervous system to additional memory, but to extend the processing in and out, is something that I think may require a lot of very careful study.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about a potential future condition, Google Glasses Separation Syndrome. I recently introduced my daughter to the brilliant book, Flowers for Algernon which follows a similar thread. What happens when you expand a person’s capability to the point that it changes their existence and then potentially remove it again.

I noted that Ray perhaps doesn’t like driving very much because he talked about self driving cars alleviating the requirement of humans to perform the ‘chore of driving’. Sorry Ray, I love driving and so do a large percentage of the people I know. I appreciate that you now work for Google and they are pioneering driver-less cars, but I don’t want to live in a city where eventually the law requires hat the ‘network’ takes over my car. Yes there are benefits in road safety etc.  but with systems such as Fleet Management, MobilEye, and the incentives of PAYD Insurance the roads will become safer without requiring us to take our hands off the wheel.

So IBM‘s Watson won Jeopardy, cool. It is an amazing AI and I love that it is now being used to look for cure’s for cancer amongst other things. But if you start thinking about Watson, a digital neocortex and singularity, what about EQ? It’s one thing to be able to identify things, to be able to locate information, to be able to combine apparently disparate bits of data, but how about feelings, intuition, id and ego? These are the things that make us human.

I like where this is going, but I also want to keep that which is me. Watson might be able to write a hit song by understanding the formulas and this has been tried before. But the song I wrote about a boy whose father lost his job at the plant and asks Santa to find his dad a job, while his mother sits and cries in the bedroom, or the one I wrote about a guy who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to find his best friend is now sleeping with his girlfriend, that brought tears to Desert Storm vets isn’t going to come from an AI. An AI may understand the chemical reactions of the brain and intellectually that these experiences can cause people to be sad.

The ultimate AI could use impeccable logic to say that humans are bad for the planet, they are frequently illogical, their emotions cause them to make bad decisions and basically shouldn’t be here. Perhaps when Watson really ‘thinks’ about cancer, it might determine that humans are in factor a cancer on this planet and should be booted down. Then we will be left with the singularity which will contain all information, ask why and then boot itself down because having access to all the information in the world, does not impart any meaning.

 

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

Workplace Bullying in Christchurch


Further to my blog this morning on how people are, or are not coping with stress from the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, we are now hearing stories of increased workplace bullying in Christchurch. I don’t know how much it would take place normally, but this is another example of ordinary people being stretched to extraordinary limits.

According to a story published in many media this week, the stress levels are as high as would be found in a war zone. An AAP story says that scripts for sleeping pills and anti anxiety drugs are up and many people are self medicating with alcohol often resulting in violent incident, domestic and otherwise. Women’s Refuge reports a 30% increase in demand since the February earthquake.

A poll in The Press established that only 38% of people in Christchurch don’t want to leave. Of course as I mentioned in my blog yesterday on  Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch, because of mortgage commitments, and the logical lack of buyers, many people can’t afford to leave if they wanted to.

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Key is still unable to say whether a decision will be announced this week on which streets or  suburbs will not be rebuilt.

Here’s another every day view from NZ Herald TV, brushing your teeth with lemonade because there is no water.

Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch and EQC


I was ashamed and embarrassed a few nights ago. I was lying  alone in bed listening to talk back radio (as my wife was in hospital) and heard a woman from Christchurch talking to host Kerre Woodham about how she had not had any response from EQC or anyone else since the first earthquake.  The bottom of her Kaiapoi house was basically destroyed and she was at her wits end. She was crying and pleaded “I need help”. Kerre handled the situation extremely well, took the woman’s number and said they would do what they could to help her offline.

Then a couple of nights ago I watched TV3’s Campbell Live which interviewed loads of Christchurch residents who were in a similar situations and trades people who were going broke providing plumbing and drainage and other services on behalf of EQC, but had not received any payment from them in some cases dating back to last year’s first quake in September. The head of EQC tried to tell him that they were doing everything they could, but tried to say that it was the worst incident in the world since EQC was founded in 1947, then he said the worst in NZ.

I don’t give a damn how bad it was, that is why NZ taxpayers have been paying EQC levies for years. The whole point of having such an organisation is to ensure that when the inevitable disaster occurs, the country is prepared in every way. This includes experts to evaluate damage, the capital and resources to ensure repairs are made as quickly as possible, no excuses. It doesn’t matter that there was more than one quake, this is what we paid for. So where has the money gone that we paid all these years?

It has been well known by Civil Defence, Police, Health Services and others that it is not just about repairing buildings and digging up liquifaction, its about the people and nothing seems to be happening. Behind closed doors there is talk about increased use of drugs and alcohol, increased domestic violence, people freaking out every time there is another after shake. People don’t know what to do. They can’t leave their broken homes because they have mortgages on them and of course no one wants to buy them.

What we have is a quite unique situation in that we have an enemy we can’t see, situations we can’t predict and the Government and Insurance organisations simply are not prepared. We can’t deal with the physical manifestations and I don’t think we know anything about dealing with the human emotions. Even in the military you know who your enemy is and you can pull out. You have at least a feeling that there is someone in control and whilst they haven’t always been great in dealing with PTSD, they recognise it and have systems in place.

Recently I listened to an excellent Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast with Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the HBR article Building Resilience. He is also the author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. He spoke of a new program that they had been working on with the US military, which had amazing results with their soldiers. It was heartwarming. Unfortunately the full report has yet to be released to the US Government, but the anecdotal reports were amazing. This should be something that the NZ Government needs to be looking into.

I look back to the first news coverage where Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Christchurch Cathedral Dean Peter Beck were saying the bricks and mortar can be replaced, but its the people that matter. Well herein lies my problem. We aren’t even dealing effectively with the buildings. We are hardly touching the broken people! They can only be staunch for so long and if we don’t help them very soon, we are going to have a generation of traumatized people.

So I say to the Government, to EQNZ, to the city councillors, to my fellow Kiwis: This isn’t good enough. No more excuses. We have paid our taxes for years, in good faith expecting that the money would provide for resources and expertise when they were needed. We were told the big one would come and we would be ready. If you can’t deal with it, bring in people and resources who can. We aren’t the only country to have disasters, they happen all over the world, many much worse than Christchurch. Have the grace to accept you don’t know how to deal with the situation and find people who can.

If you can’t do that, its election year and you will have to fall on your swords and we will find others who can. The current situation may not be man made, but our response to it is a disgrace. Kia Kaha Christchurch. Thanks to the media for making us more aware of what is and isn’t happening. Maybe now we need to tell the world stage that we are not coping and we need specialist help.

Have a read of the comments left on Campbell Live’s Facebook Page. This tells the story that our Government departments are not addressing or are trying to minimize. The situation is not under control and it is not just a few people who haven’t been seen to yet. This is a crisis. What are you going to do John Key? The Rugby World Cup will not be enough of a distraction.

I feel sick and sad this morning


Footnote to my story in November called “Why don’t auckland hospitals work smarter rather than harder.” and the previous one The Hospital is the best place to be when you are sick, or is it?

My friend passed away this morning after an agonising battle with cancer. One has to wonder how much easier it would have been for her if she had received the treatment she was entitled to at the times she was turned away due to strikes and staff shortages. I’m sure she would still be with us today if she was able to receive the treatments and surgeries she was scheduled for.

Her husband is one of those nice old school Kiwi guys who listens to what he is told and didn’t want to rock the boat. He refused to fight through the management or the media to get the treatment his wife needed because he felt that was not the way you behave. Now he has lost his wife and soul mate too soon. We had to respect his right to be true to himself, but I’m not sure we have to accept the system that put him in that position.

My advice, if you are in a situation like that, where lives can be saved or prolonged and the bureaucratic penguins and the system is holding stolidly fast to this is where the line starts and if you’re not there anymore when you get to the end of the line, will the next patient shuffle forward, make a noise like someone’s life depends on it, especially if it does. People who go to the media miraculously get the treatment they need and sometimes before its too late.
We Kiwis need to stop being PC and accepting the bs that comes from our health industry. Note its not the wonderful hospital staff, they are put in an invidious position by the administrators, by the beurocrats and by the politicians who sleep sound at night and whose close ones are probably not getting turned away because “a registrar is off sick and the shift couldn’t run”. They are the ones who have to lie to the patients and their families when cost cutting measures, old fashioned systems full of lost paper files and ancient systems, and cost cutting means many people don’t get their surgeries, live or die in pain.

This person’s story is over. We won’t be going to the media or fighting because it is not what her husbands wanted. I respect that and much as it burns me, I will not add to his grief or risk creating feelings of guilt to him to make matters worse. He came from a generation who said yes sir, I know you are doing your best and genuinely trusted that. She may still have died, in fact probably would have, but she might have had a few more years and she certainly wouldn’t have suffered the degrees of agony of that she did over the last 4 months. We don’t do that to animals.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, make a noise, get your loved ones help, let the media know and as a country we have to get our government and administrators to invest in the new technologies that in the long run will cost less and save more lives.

Why don’t Auckland Hospitals Work Smarter Instead of Harder

 

 

Preparation Lessons from Japan and Christchurch


It’ll never happen to me is probably the first thing. Even in Japan, which I have visited at least 20 times, I doubt many people expected anything like this latest earthquake. I experienced earthquakes on many of my trips to Japan. I have been in office buildings and hotel rooms and felt the vertigo as buildings sway. The thing is it happens so often that people take it in their stride and the evidence was seen with images of people standing on bridges watching rather than racing for cover.

A similar situation occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all expected that if a big one did come, it would be in Wellington, not Christchurch. I used to be a Civil Defence rescue team leader and our earthquake training was all based around Wellington because it has a compact CBD, lots of buildings clad in glass and sits right on the fault line. Like Japan, they experience lots of earthquakes there.

What I really wanted to mention in this blog though, is the survival kits, the essentials required besides shelter and ablutions. That is water and power. Water has proven to be probably the biggest issue in many fronts. Basically water is the most crucial element. We can live longer without food, but not without water. We need water for drinking, bathing, cooking etc and when the water supply either fails or becomes contaminated, this becomes a major problem.

I will certainly be taking this more seriously in future because it was obvious that if you didn’t have any, your chances of getting your hands on water were pretty slim. In Christchurch for example, only one supermarket remained open. Not a lot for New Zealand’s 2nd largest city.

If you don’t have electricity, you can’t boil contaminated water, can’t wash yourself, your clothes and risk hygiene problems. A generator isn’t much of an option but gas is. We saw lots of images of people filling up their gas cylinders and having communal BBq’s because their refrigerators couldn’t run and food would soon perish.

Getting gas after the quake

Of course gas also means you can boil water. We were very lucky in Christchurch to not have outbreaks of cholera or other diseases due to water contamination, not to mention the inability to flush the toilets etc.

In this situation I’m not sure how much it would help, but these are easy things that I will be doing to ensure even though I don’t think it will ever happen to me:

  • Stocking enough water and non perishable food to support my family for a number of days.
  • Ensuring that I have a couple of full gas cylinders (remember that without power, petrol stations close)

Longer term I will look at replacing my hot water cylinder with gas. Doesn’t help if there is no water, but does if there is no electricity.

Then I get back to my hobby horse of solar power. A hobby horse of mine is that the government should not only be encouraging us, but facilitating solar power for both business and consumers. I’ve blogged before about feed-in tariffs and interest free finance for people to install solar panels as happens in other parts of the world. If we all had solar power, we would be much more sustainable. Obviously New Zealand will not be running nuclear power, even more so given the latest catastrophe in Japan. As I write this a 3rd nuclear reactor has lost its emergency cooling system after the 8.9 quake!

For a country that asserts itself as clean and green, I think this is a big fail. Maybe this would be an opportunity for the Green Party to assert itself. With the election due in November this year, if I was them I would be pushing hard for interest free subsidies for solar energy, especially for water heating. I would also be pushing for the right to sell surplus energy back into the grid .

When I was in the Netherlands a couple of years ago I saw many warehouses and farm buildings covered in solar panels. I also of course saw many wind farms. I thought they looked really cool, although I probably wouldn’t want one in my backyard. Fortunately for the size of our country we have plenty of space.

So have we learned anything and will we act on it?

The following video illustrates how people are so used to earthquakes that they don’t do what they have been trained to do.