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……..

 

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Prostate Cancer, Gory Details, Treatment Choices and Relay For Life, Can You Help?


IMG_0817

A sign we walk past during the night in Relay For Life

I’m writing this blog to ask for your help in raising awareness and fundraising for Relay For Life, to support the Cancer Society in raising funds they need both for cancer research and to support people who need help, from counseling to transport and even free accommodation when people have to travel out of town for treatment.

The Cancer Society is funding research amongst others in the area of treating cancer like a virus, which is showing a lot of promise and would mean that people like me in future might not have to go through the treatments and processes I went through.

IMG_4287Can you spare $5 in support or in memory of a friend or family member with cancer. You can do so here. You can do it with a message, you can leave your name or mention the person you are supporting, you can do it anonymously and if you are in New Zealand it is tax deductible. I’ll bet that you, dear reader, know at least one person who has cancer. Several of you of course know me, so there’s one.

Like my previous blog, if I get some donations, I will spare you some of the gory details that we prostate cancer patients have to deal with.

I would dearly welcome your donation, I’m struggling in receiving them this year. Where I am doing well, is that the number of people who have told me that they have been motivated to get tested for cancer has now risen to 20! Every single one of them is cancer free and more importantly know so and have baselines.

So in my last blog, I spared you the gory details of the first visits to the urologist and trading my dignity for hope.  Now I am going to offer to spare you details of some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, some of which I endured and some of which I chose not to risk. I had to make decisions based on choosing life (if possible) and the most suitable treatment for my lifestyle and work.

IMG_2184 (2)Some of those side effects included painful urination, short term or permanent erectile dysfunction, never producing seminal fluid again, the length of your penis being reduced, damage to other organs, chronic fatigue, loss of libido and depression. Some of these are experienced by most prostate patients and some depend on the choice of treatment, which of course depending on the seriousness of the condition may not be optional if you want to live. It’s also important to recognise that everyone responds differently to different treatment.

The next steps were a series of biopsies. I’ll spare you the details of how they do that for prostate cancer other than that they approach it from behind. Initially they found 3 tumors and confirmed that they were malignant. Then over the next few months, scans and 2 more biopsies confirmed that I had at least 5 and they were slow growing.

They gave me 3 options. One was to implant radioactive seeds into my prostate a treatment called Brachytherapy. Here’s more if you’d like to know more about how it works. I decided against it because it meant staying away from my granddaughter and pregnant women for about 6 months. Besides not wanting to change my relationship with my beautiful young granddaughter, how do you know if someone in your circle, or even randomly sitting next to you, say on a plane, is pregnant? They might not know themselves.on

IMG_4479Basically you are emitting radiation, which while not powerful, could have unintended side effects for others. The percentage likelihood, very slim, but percentages weren’t working well for me at this time and I wasn’t going to have on my conscience that I could be sitting next to a random stranger, potentially damaging a foetus she didn’t even know existed. Obviously some people do that. You can’t exactly hop on a flight and ask not to be seated next to a young girl going through puberty or a woman of an age that she could be pregnant and perhaps not know it.

The urologist was keen on this option. It would mean a quick procedure and a couple of days later I would be home. It would have minimal impact on my work, but given part of my work is reasonably frequent air travel and what I just told you, it wasn’t a great option. It was a treatment he would perform with my oncologist, who I had yet to meet. Specialists tend to favor opportunities for surgery or treatment that is their specialty of course and I respect that.

IMG_2061The next option was 8 weeks of almost daily radiation on this beast, which includes a CT scanner which would first make sure that every morning, after drinking enough water to fill my bladder and push my organs out of reach of the radiation (where possible), that I was lying in an identical position.

It would give me a 95% chance of killing the tumours. They could accomodate me so that I could go in first thing in the morning, if I got up early and have the treatment before work. They could do it over December and January as well so that would mean 3 weeks where it did not impact on my job.

The third option was to remove the prostate altogether, so if the tumours haven’t spread beyond the gland (pretty difficult to tell), they might get it altogether.

At this point I felt I needed to be informed. What were the risks, benefits and side effects? I thought back to watching Sir Paul Holmes on TV before he passed away from Prostate Cancer in 2013, saying that he wished he had never known he had cancer at all.

So how do you choose? I purchased a book called ‘Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer, Get The Treatment That is Right For You‘ by Dr Gerald Chodak. Oh how I wish I hadn’t bought the book, but I’m the sort of person who needs to understand.

It explained in gory detail how the different treatments worked (including some chemical treatments that we hadn’t discussed). Every treatment came with side effects and after effects. I hardly got any sleep for the week it took me to read this book. It scared the hell out of me and whilst you need to be positive, as stress has an impact on your body’s ability to fight cancer cells, it’s pretty hard to make an informed decision that WILL impact the rest of your Teamlife without being informed. I chose the book over Doctor Google, because it was recommended by cancer patient support groups.

So in the end I chose the 8 weeks of radiation and yes it had lots of side effects. Most of these are now over, 2 years later, but I’d be lying if I said it had been easy. If you’d like the gory details, please don’t pop $5 into my Early Bird account.

lava lava

Naked barring my socks, each morning I lay on the scanner, watching them mark with a pen, where the beam should go, trying to hold on to my dignity and my full bladder

Unfortunately soon after 2 months of treatment they told me that I wasn’t in the 95% of people who found themselves in remission after the treatment, but I felt very happy for those who were.

I had side effects from the treatment and scans showed the tumours were still there.

I did work on positivity and put my energy into starting my EP The Cancer Diaries following suppRelaort from my friends when I didn’t have the emotional strength to pick up my guitars or play them. I also took up the offer of free counselling from an Auckland Cancer Society specialist cancer psychologist, one of the services funded by your donations. If you haven’t heard the DEMO of the first song called If I Could Turn The Pages, you can listen to it here.

I hope you don’t want the gory details and will find $5 to shut me up although if you have prostate cancer, or want to know more about getting tested or the journey you are facing, I’m happy to share my experiences with any individuals on request.

Several people have found it helpful to speak to someone who has cancer rather than well meaning people, who haven’t had the experiences or had to make difficult decisions.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

So instead of encouraging me to talk in more detail about the physical and emotional experiences I’ve been through in the last 2 years, please drop a couple of coins in the virtual bucket and lets celebrate life and hope and support Relay For Life 18 with my team. The Early Birds.

I’m in Remission, New Song for Cancer Album and Relay For Life


What a week I had last week, back to work blues, PSA blood tests for my prostate cancer and the usual agonising wait for yesterday’s meeting with my oncologist after my blood tests on Wednesday and more.

Benji RoomSo the visit was short and sweet, my PSA levels have gone down a little, without the help of any more drugs and after prodding my stomach (not quite sure why and I didn’t ask) I don’t have to go back for another 3 months.

That’s a weight off my mind and I can refocus on getting on with life and I have so much I want to do.

First, there’s Relay For Life on 10-11 March. Team Early Birds is back for another year and I need your help. Our team is a little smaller than in previous years and if you would like to join us, we would love your company. You can get all the detail here.

iPhone 145If you can’t join us, it would be great if you could leave a little donation. Even $5 is tax deductible and it is an awesome cause. With one in three Kiwis getting cancer, anything we can do to aid research and the awesome work of the Auckland Cancer Society who have been a huge help to me, is welcome. Last year I raised $1,500. So far this year I haven’t got to $50. So either way, can you lend a hand?

My Big Project A Cancer Video EP, the Last Song

EarlyAs you may recall, dear reader, I am working on a HAG project which is huge, creating an EP and video series for people with cancer and those who are supporting friends and family with cancer in some way to help them on their journey. If you missed that story, details are here and again I need help.

The last song is called Dare to Dream and after the good news again on Saturday, it seems the right time to share the story and lyrics with you. This song is intimidating to me because it has tracks that I can’t play including a sax and a gospel choir. I have no idea where to find either of these, but I am confident that with some help from my friends, I will.

The song is about being told I’m in remission and trying to process what that means. I used to think that being in remission means that you are cancer free, but when I asked Benji, my oncologist about that he said “You will never be cancer free. Once you have cancer, you have cancer. Remission means it is in control and you don’t need any treatment, for now.”

IMG_2153So for the foreseeable future I will be stressed out on the last week of each 3 month period and hopefully like yesterday, will be told the good news that I continue to be doing fine. Benji thought I was looking very well and looking back at photos of my pasty pale face of a couple of years ago when I was undergoing radiation treatment and dealing with chronic fatigue, I look great!

So if you’re still with me, here are the song lyrics. Super Better is an awesome book by Jane McGonigal which now has a game and a Facebook page. There is also a great TED Talk by her for those who don’t want to wade through the book.

Verse 1
I’m in remission, it’s a reprieve from my condition

In 3 months I’ll know more, for sure

Pinch me am I dreaming? Please explain the meaning

Before I close the door, does this mean I’m cancer free?
Chorus 1

The winter sun is crisp and clear,

I’ll write a list for 10 more years

Of things I want to do and see,

Things that mean the world and

Dare to dream, dare to dream

So much more for you and me

So much more that we can be

Verse 2
I’m in remission and I give myself permission

To embrace each new day as if the cancer has gone away

I’m going to grab a power up a SuperBetter lift up

Cause there are many on our team

Who need to dear to dream.
Chorus 2 (gospel choir for alternate lines)

Dear to dream

Watch me lift my hands up high

Dear to dream

Reaching out to touch the sky

Dare to dream

Take off like a bird and fly

Can’t believe this feeling

Repeats after break with lead guitar and horn section

songSo there you have it. I’m currently working on the demo for my second song called Who Stole My Words, which is about an incident where the chronic fatigue brain fog meant I couldn’t come up with simple words like current and channel to explain how I found myself upside down in an ocean kayak, without any fight or flight instinct because I wasn’t producing cortisol or adrenaline. I was upside down, underwater harnessed in thinking ‘this is interesting’. Anyway, I’m having a bit of a struggle going from fingerpicking to strumming and staying in perfect time with the clicktrack so I can add a walking bassline. But that’s another story.

So, can you help with Relay For Life, either with a small donation, or joining the team for 10-11 March in Mairangi Bay at the Millenium Institute? I’ll be there all night relaying with family and friends to raise money for the Cancer Society and in honor of the friends, family and colleagues who are fighting or who have lost their battle with cancer.

Do you know an Auckland based Gospel choir or a small horn section, or at least a sax player who could help with this song? The album will be Not For Profit by the way. I know I will have to pay for some of the work, which I will crowd source, but the end product will be free.

Mercy ScannerWant more info on my cancer journey? You’ll find it here. If you know anyone else who might find this interesting, please share it with them with my thanks.

Michael Q Todd is a Social Media Expert


The world is full of self proclaimed social media experts, many of them legends in their own minds. Every once in a while you come across someone who not only really does understand how it all works, but one that practices what they preach. 

Presenting at his Auckland Seminar

Presenting at his Auckland Seminar

One such person is Michael Q Todd. I had the pleasure last week of meeting him in person in Auckland and attending one of his seminars which was a pre-launch of his upcoming book The 7 Pillars of Your Online Success. Michael is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Japan with his lovely wife Dr Yoriko Todd.

The mix of attendees ranged from total beginners to very experienced people including Sean Mitchell of Techday, Jason Kemp of Dialog Ventures, Mark Thomas of 2Review and Roger Bennett, one of New Zealand’s serial networkers and connectors, all people who are very passionate about what they do. You have to be, to go to a 3 hour seminar on a weekday evening. There was a quality of debate, illustrating that one size doesn’t fit all and Michael managed the proceedings like the pro that he is.

I’m not going to tell you about everything he covered, it was an introduction to the new book and one that I am very much looking to receive an advanced copy on. I’ve read a couple of pre-released chapters and they are winners. You may be very good with one application or aspects of an application, but be missing out on others. Another is that this is a changing environment. Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are constantly adding and modifying features, you need to keep abreast of these. New services like Vine, Empire Ave (one of my current favorites, you’ll find my account here)  and Posse  are popping up all the time. Some of these will be valuable to you. Never assume you are up to date, because you will be wrong. If you don’t keep up to date, you could end up like this moth (not for the squeemish) I captured on my second Vine attempt, being devoured by a praying mantis.

This is one of the reasons I really like

Following are a 3 key takeouts for me:

1. It’s about selling. Anything you do is social media has to have a purpose, an end game. It is usually to sell something. It could be the products or services you provide to customers, it could be selling your consultancy, or perhaps promoting your sporting activity, music or hobbies. Start with the end game in mind.

2. Three things that brand you. People get confused when you tell them you do lots of different things. Define the 3 most important things, based  on (1) above. Give this some serious thought. If you have too much going on, narrow your focus or you will confuse people and won’t sell much of anything. For me, I am

3. Plug the gaps. One for me is Lists. I used to have a very successful newsletter many years ago which I sold as part of my consultancy and training school, the New Zealand Smartphone and PDA Academy. It had a large following and I really enjoyed the feedback from readers. Lately I thought that social media had replaced email newsletters, but now realize that they add another dimension. What are your gaps?

Once in a rare while you meet someone who will make a profound and positive difference in your life if you let them. I have had a few of those over my years and I believe that Michael Q Todd is going to be one of those. Whatever business you are in, or want to be in, whatever role you currently play in life, you are a brand and Michael can help teach you how to focus and market that brand and to reach the results you desire. You can find out more about him on his website.

I’ll leave the last word to Michael from one of his many YouTube Videos

Consumption 2.0 and Mobile Society


I’ve just read an article by Hugo Garcia of Futures Lab in Portugal in the latest issue of The Futurist. He was outlining how younger people today are more mobile, more focussed on consuming goods, services and experiences, rather than being attached to things and places. One area that he was strong on was the fact that people are now so mobile and keen to explore the world and their environments.

Location becomes far more important because you are continuing moving around as opposed to tied to a fixed location in the world. He said that one example is the trend towards not owning a home, perhaps ever. I always hear talk about how hard it is to get into property, I don’t think it has ever been easy. When we bought our first home (to give ourselves and our children some long term security) we bought in a cheap neighbourhood and at one stage were paying in excess on 20% interest. For a couple of years in the beginning, we went without pretty much anything, just to pay the interest. Today many don’t want to restrict their lifestyle, making it a choice, their choice is to live for today.

The ‘office’ is for many people today, especially knowledge workers, not somewhere we need to be a lot of the time and the cost of maintaining an office, commuting, car parking (you could almost rent a room for the cost of my Auckland City car park). We go to the office when we need to, for meetings, teamwork etc, but otherwise I can be much more productive from my home office.

White BikesHugo talks about shared mobility. This is not a new concept, but certainly one that is coming back with a vengeance. Back in the 1960’s the Provos introduced white bikes that anyone could use. The idea was that you grabbed a bike, rode it to where you wanted to go and left it there for the next person to use. Their concept, same as today was to reduce pollution and traffic congestion and promote community engagement. They were certainly engaged as very quickly the bikes were stolen and repainted, but the idea was very good.

Today carpooling continues to grow, Zipcars, recently purchased by Avis, which is currently being debated as to whether it was an anticompetitive manoeuvre, is an example of car sharing, which in principle makes a lot of sense. People share ownership in boats, holiday homes and other items and many people are travelling around the world using the services of portals like Airbnb. There are loads of companies sprouting up like Whipcar, which lets you rent out your own vehicle when you don’t need it.

Globalisation is also an area that is changing rapidly. I remember reading history books about the great depression and how people moved from town to town looking for work. Mobility today is something far more international and international borders are being crossed continually by people in search of work, whether it is because they can’t find it at home, want a better life, or simply enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. Over a million Kiwis are working and living overseas, while British and other nationalities are moving to New Zealand to work on projects such as the reconstruction of  Christchurch.

Hugo points out there are pro’s and cons. “Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

I note again that knowledge workers, one of the biggest industry segments today can often work from anywhere and travel when required. I know many journalists and developers that live in small towns for the lifestyle, but can still perform on a global stage.

This mobile society opens up huge scope for innovation and disruption, particularly with location based services, applications for mobile use, which can support the new mobile lifestyle. Kiwi developers can and are developing applications used globally, despite those that say you can’t be successful unless you are in Silicon Valley, things are changing. The money may be there, but they don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

If anyone knows about a mobile lifestyle its Kiwis, anywhere is a long way from New Zealand. We know how to travel, we absorb and learn and we love new technology. Where we need help is harnessing our smarts, to help our innovators and entrepreneurs to learn how to scale and think big. That’s a tough ask and I don’t think our Government is doing anywhere near enough to ensure that smart people are able to grow from small concepts to large global enterprises.

I was just asking myself how I suddenly got on my soap box, but then I’m not sure I ever get off it:)

If Only You Would Listen


Its soapbox time again, but it won’t take long. This is for myself and for the many business people who talk too much.

I’ve been in a lot of business meetings lately, some of them excellent, many of them way too long. This morning I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts Rock the World With LinkedIn on Webmaster Radio which was an interview with the founder of MBAWriters and Director at BT Consulting, Todd Rhoad. Among other things they were talking about the value and importance of eBooks. This is of course something of a hobby horse for me.

I wrote a treatise called Are eBooks Ready to Come of Age and published it 10 years ago. You can get a free PDF copy here.

Anyway, I’ve seen a few eyes glaze over recently in meetings and presentations. It wasn’t that they were unable to comprehend the topics. It was because they had understood long before. There were a few classic sayings towards the end of the podcast, the things smart parents tell their kids. and the things that sales people are taught, well were taught back in the day when sales was considered a profession. Like:

  • The most successful business people keep their mouths shut. I learned that in my second year of my 3 year Sales & Marketing Diploma. I was selling 2-way radios to a sharp businessman. Halfway through my presentation he asked me for the price. I thought I was dealing with the price objection, so I started in on the problems he had told me about and how the features and benefits of our product would help him with those. He asked again for the price. I stopped, a little confused. He asked me again. I told him and he signed a big fat purchase order on the spot. I learned big time from that and always try to remind other people that you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason and you should use them in that proportion.
  • As Lori said on the podcast (which I strongly recommend you subscribe to, is that you learn more by listening. All you need to to do to get business is listen to what the customer wants, confirm that what they are saying is in fact what they want, then leg them know if you can solve their problem at a rate that is less painful than the problem they want to solve. Then stop talking and get on with doing the business.
  • Smart people are listening and processing what they are being told. As Todd said “With people who are very quiet, you have to be very eager when they pop up and say something, because they’ve been sitting there thinking about it and its probably going to be pretty intelligent.” The flip side of that is think about what you are going to say, don’t speak as you are thinking. Maybe you can’t wait to hear what you are going to say, but your listener may not be as excited unless you are responding to what they are telling you.
  • Another thing I learned many years ago which is obvious, but sometimes you need to think about the obvious, is that we can think much faster than we listen or read. Let your customer listen and if you have a PowerPoint presentation, don’t read them the presentation, they have already read it and are processing it. Glazed eyes again, perhaps thinking about lunch or their next meeting.

I’m going to finish with an old Chicago song I used to love and share with you one great tool that I hear women using all the time, which I call active listening. Do you ever have a conversation with someone, usually a woman and she repeats back to you some of the words you have just said?

“The floods and damage from Cyclone Evan were pretty scary….:

“pretty scary”

“I had some friends who were over there on vacation”

“on vacation, I bet they were wishing they had gone somewhere else”

This is an active conversation and the people doing this are totally engaged. Most people are not totally engaged and are in fact focusing on the next thing they are going to say rather than listening to what their customer or prospect is trying to tell them. Active listening is a really good tool to use because it can stop your mind from wandering off and perhaps missing that clue that your customer is offering you as to why they might want your product. It will also help you understand what your customer is really thinking about and wants. It will let you be ready for buying signals and it will also endear you to the customer because you are showing that you are really interested. If you aren’t interested, then you probably don’t want their business.

Next time you meet someone and they ask how you are, say “Thanks, I’m very, how are you?” If they stop and ask “Very what?” They were listening. Chances are they will say something like “That’s nice”.

Listening for most of us is a skill we need to work on. Very few men, including myself at times, are not great listeners. I have found that the times when people really enjoyed a conversation with me, I actually said very little and I have probably learned a lot.