Of Asimov, Robots, Artificial Intelligence and What is a Human Anyway


You might say I have too much time on my hands. I would answer that I never have enough time, but my back injury continues and I have had time to think in a few directions.

Whether it is HAL 9000, remember “I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave” as an answer to “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” from 2001 A Space Odyssey?

If you haven’t tried it, ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana or whatever your speech interface is to the internet, those famous words. “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” If only Arthur C Clarke was around to experience that.

Damn, I just remembered that they had a 4K restoration of the movie at Imax last month for the 50th anniversary of the movie. I was hoping to find someone to go with and then totally forgot about it. That would have been amazing.

AsimovI collect books and in recent years have given away many books that I was never going to read again, but decided to extend my collections of specific writers and starting at the beginning of the alphabet, I looked at what was missing from my Isaac Asimov collection and amongst others bought a copy of The Bicentennial Man.

Asimov is of course famous for the 3 Laws of Robotics. Ironically a lot of people debunked his laws and said they were flawed and used that to criticise him as being unrealistic or perhaps idealistic, which is a trait of many SciFi authors of the 70’s. However, he knew that himself. In many of his stories, robots disobeyed the laws.

There is a great story in this book called That Thou Art Mindful of Him, in which is a play on Psalm 8:4-6, he also infers in some of the stories that he was Jewish through some of the characters and had a keen sense of humor.

In this story (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) a series of robots are produced and given the capability to become self aware, in effect sentient. They redefine what it is to be human and declare themselves as such.

I played with the thought of Singularity and imagined if autonomous cars could pass the Turing Test 

I also looked at what might happen if they didn’t and what hackers might be able to do.

What I keep coming back to and writers like Philip K Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others foresaw 50 and more years ago and similar to where the TV series Humans is heading, is that humans are dangerous to the planet.

Now I like being human and I hope that my descendants will have safe and healthy planet for thousands of years from now and many of my little stories are in jest.

BUT, if climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, brinkmanship politics, drought, famine, and war are the result of how great and committed we humans fancy ourselves to be, would it not be realistic if an Artificial Intelligence was developed to the point of Singularity and able to continue to learn with or without programmed biases, would their logic determine that the human race should either be limited or allowed to exterminate ourselves?

Kurzweil looked at it a different way and said that Singularity would occur around 2045 and potentially be a synthesis between human and machine, in effect human 2.0. He would be about 98 at that point in time, so it will be interesting to see if he is still around and if he is right.

Maybe Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and many futuristic projects should have the last word. He’s pretty successful and walks the talk. DARPA, Rex Bionics and hundreds of companies, universities and other innovators are developing systems that will be able to think for themselves. Yes, for specific purposes, but they are being created.

It’s interesting that in this clip, they say that Science Fiction is usually about 50 years ahead of its time. So back to Asimov, reading him today, especially a book like The Bicentennial Man, where like Stephen King and others, he talks about his stories, was he in fact prophetic?

Yes, maybe I’ve had too much time to think, but do you think we should be thinking about this. Just imagined if a machine, say a Robocop decided that using facial recognition or perhaps racial recognition, that you were, could be, or could become a criminal and then think about biases that go into programming, often of necessity.

What conclusions could an AI start taking when given some information and some bias and then left to learn on the basis of that starting point? Oh and I didn’t even mention George Orwell. He wrote Animal Farm in 1945. Remember “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”? Shutting up now……..

 

10 Things I haven’t been quiet about


I’ve had a few comments suggesting I haven’t been blogging much lately. When it comes to this blog and The Future Diaries I haven’t been prolific lately, but I’ve been pretty active on my SoLoMo Consulting blog.

So, if you’ve missed me, here are 10 things I’ve been writing about lately:

  1. Climate Change Refugees. This one on The Future Diaries where I was looking back from the future when all the expat Kiwis and anyone else that wanted a clean green, safe environment was hightailing it back to New Zealand. Interesting to see recent stats back up that notion with migration hitting a 9 year high with one of the biggest groups this year entering New Zealand was Kiwis who had been away for a long time. When fresh non-recycled water becomes a rare commodity, watch them all run to the bottom of the planet.

    Fresh drinking water that hasn't been recycled

    Fresh drinking water that hasn’t been recycled

  2. Usage Based Insurance. I’ve mostly called it PAYD or Pay As You Drive. This story today is about insurance companies using Fleet Management data to determine risk and charge premiums based on how safe commercial drivers, particularly freight companies drive. Makes sense doesn’t it. Fleet Management would also give insurance companies advanced and near real time geographic risk profiles.
  3. Planning your Thanksgiving travel. The weekend is upon us and it seems ironic that we get together to be thankful, but the process makes it one of the most stressful weekends on the American calendar.
  4. I’ve blogged a lot about your mobile knowing where you are and what you’re up to. Now your mobile is starting to know what building you’re in and which floor you are on and retailers want to know.
  5. 19 car manufacturers have got together to ensure that you don’t stop buying their cars because they have embraced location based services. You want the features but you don’t want to give up your privacy. This is becoming a very hot topic.
  6. Take away all the traffic lights and intersection controls and you end up with safer streets. Really? Well it seems to be working in some places.
  7. Hacking Traffic Systems. I copped some flack from a traffic engineer over this, who said it is an old story and DOT’s are way to smart to risk being hacked. Phew, I am very relieved. No illegal green-waves here!
  8. A smart car ITS corridor in Europe. It makes sense to try it somewhere. Driver-less cars should be tested in a safe environment first IMHO.
  9. How big do you think Virgin Atlantic’s new Google Glass check-in service will be at your local airport? It may be a breeze, but I think there will be a lot of breeze between people who will use it.
  10. There is always a story about someone who crashes their vehicle and says the GPS nav made me do it. Here’s one about a truck driver who drove into a public park in Milwaukee and blamed his nav.

So as you can see, my fingers haven’t been idle. Hopefully there’s at least one story here to attract your interest and maybe a comment.

Barter, the New Old Economy


I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?

What happens when the water rises in Auckland


After writing my blog on New Orleans yesterday, I reflected on our own position. I live on Auckland’s North Shore and when I drive the motorway to the Auckland Harbour Bridge and there is a king tide, the water almost laps onto the verge of the motorway. If the sea rises a metre, the water would frequently run accross the motorway itself. If that rise becomes permanent, Auckland, we have a problem.

Auckland is a problem to me because I live there, but the same applies to areas such as the main entrance into Wellington where a whole stretch of road runs along a coast which frequently has heavy seas. Only recently State Highway One was closed because of waves crashing on the shore near Paekakariki in one of the storms which have now become commonplace in New Zealand.

New Zealand is an island nation, surrounded by sea. Much of it is well above sea level, but many areas are not that high at all. In fact, with our passion for the sea, a large percentage of our population lives close to the sea.

We watch with interest as the Pacific Island nations start to consider the possibility of having to leave their ancestral homes. We have even started planning to take on refugees from the Islands when some of them are forced to evacuate, most likely forever, but I see very little evidence of preparations for the seemingly inevitable, when the sea encroaches on our roads and homes. How is it that we seem to have so little forsight? What are the government, Transit and the councils doing to make sure that we are able to continue life as usual when the ice shelfs drop and the polar ice is gone?

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Will New Orleans be the first major city to be abandoned because of Global Warming?


Climate change is occuring at a faster pace than anyone anticipated and the evacuation of New Orleans for the 2nd time as a consequence of Cyclone Gustav could portend the first city that is changed or even abandoned as a consequence of global warming.

We have known for some time that some of the Pacific Atolls could end up under water (what about parts of Hawai), but I don’t think anyone predicted that they would be telling 2 million people to leave their homes again. Many of these won’t go back to try to establish their lives yet again and if they hadn’t lost many of their valuable posessions, especially the heirlooms, family photos and other things that can’t be replaced by insurance, you could understand why they would not want to go back, even if they have their roots there.

What happens when you have a city that noone wants to live in? When the insurance companies no longer want to cover property in the area, homes or contents.

We have known for a few years that some of the Pacific Islands and atolls could disappear as the sea level rises, but we didn’t anticipate something this bad so soon especially on the US Mainland.

Climate change is happening fast and in my humble opinion, now is a good time to start thinking about where you live and whether your home is at risk. I don’t think the real estate values in New Orleans will hold in future. I suspect that if you find a house you want and are prepared to put a roof on it, or clean the mud, silt and top soil off the carpet, that you can have it.

So now have a think about your own home. Is it safe from weather extremes? If the sea rises a couple of metres, will you still be above the water level? Will you be able to get supplies, fresh water and food? What about electricity or gas? All the things you take for granted.

In New Zealand there have been lots of stories about what to do in an emergancy, the yellow pages have guides as to what to stock up on, but if we took a poll today and asked how many households in the cities could last a week or more without the utilities, it would be very few.

What about all those people who have bought nice waterfront properties. Even by normal extremes some of them have had water on their doorstep. I know because in a couple of storms I wave skied into their backyards. So what will happen to the property values of waterfront homes? Would you buy one right now?

The USA has many areas that are prone to severe weather conditions. In fact if they are everywhere. The likelihood is that if they are bad now, they will become significantly worse over the next few years. Something to think about if you are moving to another town or state. Other parts of the world are feeling it too. In New Zealand we are having floods on top of floods and now roads are getting buried under slips and landslides are forcing people to evacuate their houses. Africa and Australia are experienceing drought while India and parts of Europe get flooded. The European government is trying to shore up plans to help water regugees.

Through all of this, unless you are in an emergency zone, or supporting refugees, chances are that you have been thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there, or this will never happen to me. Think again, very soon.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

So how about the weather in Auckand


So we survived another storm on the weekend. I was playing poker in the NPPL Regional finals on Saturday when the storm was up to its mischief. The guy sitting next to me got a phone call while he was playing to say that the chimney had been blown off his roof and had fallen through the roof of his garage. He thought he should leave and sort it out, so he went all in AND WON! Then he went all in again, determined to get out of there. I think after that he decided the roof could wait, lol.

Then when I got home I found that a third of my bottlebrush tree was lying accross the footpath, but it would have to wait till light the next day. While I was sitting down watching the abysmal performance of the All Blacks against the Wallabies, friends got home to find the fire department tying down the roof of their house. We got off lucky.

This is not typical Auckland weather, or at least it didn’t used to be, but I recall watching the news a few months ago and they were saying, get used to it. This is a symptom of global warming and although Auckland is not perceptably warmer, especially this year, we have started getting frequent subtropical downpours. We have always had four seasons in a day, but not the sort of rain that drops a swimming pool on your roof, followed by the sun, followed by another rain bomb.

So now that we are back to normal, they say the next storm is going to start at 3PM today.

I wonder what the situation is with our water levels. They have been saying that we were short of water fr the hydro electric power lakes. I hope they are closer to normal now. Also wondering about drinking water, we are still getting Waikato River water because it is cheaper to keep giving it to us, than it is to stop. I know it is only a percentage (what percentage?) but the rain will also be draining huge amounts of fertiliser and other contaminants into the river and eventually into our taps. I know they filter a certain amount of contaminants out, but it will be far from pure.

Is there a global water shortage?


While on a trip last week I bought a copy of Futurist Magazine, which I accidetally left at the airport but that’s another story. Anyway, it had a number of articles about major drought issues which seem to be a result of climate change. It blew me away. Next I saw a new release book ‘Blue Covenant’ by Maude Barlow about water shortages around the world and it struck me that there is something serious going on and while we are worrying about oil and petrol prices, there may be something far more troublesome happening.

“Desalination plants will ring the world’s oceans, many of them run by nuclear power; corporate nanotechnology will clean up sewage water and sell it to private utilities who will sell it back to us at a huge profit; the rich will drink only bottled water found in the few remote parts of the world left or sucked from the clouds by machines, while the poor die in increasing numbers. This is not science fiction. This is where the world is headed unless we change course.”

— Maude Barlow

I live in Auckland, New Zealand and while I was away, there was a pretty major storm that blew over part of my fence and left my swimming pool overflowing. At the same time that this was happening, the lakes in the South Island which are used for generation of Hydro Electric Power are running close to critically low levels. The latest news is that they have risen to 58% of normal levels.

Many towns around New Zealand are facing potential drought conditions which has major significance for agriculture and these changes seem to be long term. I suspect that most people like me have been blissfully unaware of it. Sure I knew there were problems in Australia including rice crops being down by 90% and parts of Africa, but I had no idea how serious it is.

In China, there are water crises in many locations such as the Shandong Province where people are only allowed access to water for 7 hours a day, and people around Beijing will have limited access to water during the period of the Olympic Games to ensure that visitors do not go thirsty.

The Worldwide Fund For Nature WFF is not only concerned about lack of water for much of Europe and Great Britain, but also that dams and solutions designed to collect and manage water for some areas may harm water retention and the ecology for other areas. According to the UN “climate change means that creeping deserts may eventually drive 135 million people off their land.

The USA doesn’t get let off either. Sure America has endured many droughts over the centuries, but they were just rare events. Now in California there are battles over whether water should be used for the needs of the city or for crops and many farms are struggling for their survival.

While we have grown used to conflict in the Middle East over oil, could the future conflicts be focussed on something far more critical for human survival?

So what should we be doing about it? I don’t know, I guess the first thing is to take notice. You could invest in water companies to hedge your bets, you should be more aware of what is going on around you. It wouldn’t hurt to invest in solar desalination products and buy one for yourself. Whilst they may be designed for purifying salt water, you could use them on any water source. Several recent inventions look like a great device for areas where water is scarce or contaminated by chemicals, bug larvae etc.

With 97% of the planet’s water being salty, I hope this planet doesn’t become a case of ‘water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.’ This is not science fiction folks, it is fact. My thoughts:

  • It will effect you in your lifetime.
  • Find out if the water from your roof is suitable for drinking, or at least your garden.
  • Invest in water collection for your garden and other uses.
  • Make sure your local council is investing in sustainable, good quality water for the future.
  • An investment in a water production/bottling company would make good business sense.
  • Places that are likely to suffer water shortages might not be the best places to live in the future, property values will reduce and eventually collapse.
  • Property values in areas such as West Auckland will increase in the long term, although some areas also risk sliding down the bank as the ground gets waterlogged.
  • Water ownership should stay in the public domain.
  • PPP (Public Private Partnership) companies will end up owning and controlling a lot of water production and supply around the world.

As a footnote, ancient pure water that has been under the ground for centuries must be a finite resource, just as are fossil fuels. Have you ever wondered what will happen to the planet when we have brought it all to the surface? Does the mass of the water help hold the superstructure of our planet together? We are sucking thousands of cubic kilometers of liquid out of the planet every year. Are there concequences we have yet to face along with global warming?

As I have pointed out before, our generation is one of major change. Science Fiction is becoming reality at a pace far greater than we expected and the authors are proving to have been prophetic. We haven’t seen any aliens that I’m aware of, but the dust bowls of Mad Max and the desserts of Dune could become reality on Earth, or at least of sorts. At the rate we are going our descendants could be wearing the stillsuits that Frank Herbert wrote about. I don’t think I’m being over the top here. I still feel grateful to live in this era of rapid change and exciting technology and to live in a country of relative peace, a friendly climate and low poverty, but I am starting to wonder what sort of a world my grand children will live in and asking whether they will pay in the future for the excesses of today.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)