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……..

 

Nestle is tracking you down with Commandoes


Nestle in the UK has come up with a very cool imho marketing campaign. They are putting GPS chips in the wrapping of 6 food bars such as Kit Kats and when they are opened / activated, within 24 hours they vow to track down the chips, send in the commandos to find, and possibly scare the hell out of the people who bought them and give them 10,000 pounds.

This is a very cool use of location based technology that will fire up marketing people and those into location based marketing like me big time. CNET says that this campaign will appeal to men and perhaps they are not usually the target market for chocolate. In this case I suspect sales will go through the roof and while this campaign hasn’t yet gone seriously viral, I’m sure it will. It is also likely to be winning awards as TV cameras from around the world follow the commandos to the lucky people receiving the prizes.

Just as well they are using TVC’s and billboards with NFC and QR Codes to promote this campaign or people will be thinking that a new war has broken out.

Location based marketing is going to play a major role in our lives going forward and those who are in early will reap rewards by standing out from the crowd. This certainly puts a new spin on guerrilla marketing.

So how could you use location based services to grow your unfair share of the market? For more ideas, check out my other blogs at The Future Diaries and SoLoMo Consulting.


Creating jobs with FIT for renewable energy


So how about this picture. If the Government gives us interest free loans to install solar panels on roofs, we could reduce the need for expanding coal and oil based electricity, whilst maintaining our geothermal and hydro production.

The Government would set up Feed In Tariffs enabling power companies to purchase spare power units to feed in to the grid to supplement its own resources and those of the community as and when required.

The technology would include smart meters where appliances and power consumption may be monitored by the consumer This is already available in NZ from companies such as SmartNow. This is very important because it educates consumers of all ages  as to the impact of each household appliance.

Smart Meter

You would be able to monitor this on your SmartPhone as well as the touch screen in your home, perhaps even control appliances remotely. Now you will know if you turn your 3 TV’s off instead of having them on stand by, exactly how much energy and cost you are saving.

Many of our household devices are developing sufficient intelligence to be turned on and off remotely. This can apply to anything from your stove or microwave, to your TV Set Top Box, washing machine, heating etc.

Kiwis are very clever. With a little encouragement and support, we could have people coming up with new technologies for smoothing power, sharing and reticulating, designing solar panels that look good and work more efficiently in our environment.

Whole new industries and thousands of jobs would come out of this. Educators, estimators, designers, manufacturers, installers, inspectors, service people, finance companies, new boutique electrical companies, to name a few.

New Zealand is an island and we can be potentially isolated from gas and fossil fuels, especially if the worst happened and a serious war broke out somewhere on the planet.

Do you think that in the Middle East, Europe or USA, they would be saying, oh don’t forget New Zealand, we must set aside x number of tonnes of crude for our antipodean mates down under? But I digress. We are smart people and I think we could create not only some serious domestic growth, but our inventions spawned from this adventure could also contribute to some huge potential export revenue through the innovations that we would produce.

We also made a commitment to being clean and green. Digging up coal and gas doesn’t exactly honor that commitment, although I agree we need the money. Maybe we can’t do it with solar and wind alone, but if we could produce even half of our requirements from our roofs whilst at the same time reducing power consumption through smarter use and education, wouldn’t that be cool?

We could also lead in international design and R & D, with companies like Fisher & Paykel in the development of new technologies that burn much less power, including heating, consumer electronics and more. We need revival of new companies like Gallagher, Rakon and Taits, which have shown that we can be world leaders in technology. Those number 8 fencing wire companies we are so proud of.

The problem is that all of this needs to start with the politicians and all I seem to hear from them is that the coal, oil and gas is worth a lot of money and we should sell them. OK, if we need to do that because New Zealand is insolvent, then do it, but put the money earned into renewables, try to make ourselves self sufficient and then develop export revenues by exporting the technologies we built and developed locally, exploiting our IP. Kiwis are smart people.

Come on National, Labour and Green Parties, lets take a long term view beyond the next election. Change only happens when you do something different. Make it happen and you can have the credit if that is what drives your ambitions, but lets show our leadership.

I didn’t mention tourism, but I don’t think people really buy into clean green anymore. Lets show them we can be clean and green and beautiful and then generate export revenue out of our new skills and industries.

As a footnote, a quote by Farrell J. January 2011 on the Ontario FIT which started in 2009 from New Rules Project:

Ontario’s clean energy program encourages local ownership and distributed generation, in part to broaden support for renewable energy and in part to capture the increased economic impact generated from local ownership.

The domestic content requirement has already resulted in the promise of 43,000 jobs and dozens of new manufacturing plants to support the 5,000 MW of new clean energy.

As a footnote, imagine if the panel didn’t have to be on your roof, but could be on every one of your windows and you could see through it? That’s what MIT is hoping for. 

On Living Longer


I’ve decided I want to live longer.  I love technology and I love this world of change and the ability to be involved in this technological era. I have things to contribute and I want to be active in ICT, Location Based Services and also as a songwriter. I want to see my children and grandchildren grow up and explore this ever changing world and see what they make of it.

I’m going to have to work longer, that was always expected, but then providing my Maslow and Herzberg needs are met, I enjoy working. I enjoy making a difference, helping people achieve their goals. I enjoy learning, watching what is helping in my spheres of interest, particularly those mentioned above. I enjoy collaborating and networking and am particularly passionate about seeing New Zealand step up to the plate and continuing to innovate and achieve greater success on the world stage.

I reckon a healthy target for me would be 120 given medical advances now and in the future. My greatest risks are probably heart and cancer, with the determining factors being nature and nurture and my general disposition i.e. my attitude and happiness.

One thing that is obvious is that I have to look after my financial well being. If I continue to work, then raising the retirement age isn’t going to be a major for me. If I am enjoying my work, see a future for myself where I can contribute from my experience, passion and knowledge and can continue to grow, I wouldn’t be expecting to retire at 67.

I know I can’t rely on the Government to give me any kind of lifestyle on the retirement pension anyway. Our budget deficit has just been raised to over $15b and despite some significant successes, we still don’t have an infrastructure that really supports innovation. We tend to take credit once people are successful, but most successful innovators tend to be successful in spite of the country’s and their employers contribution rather than because of it.

So my first considerations as I start goal setting and planning will be how I can maintain my lifestyle in the years to come, continue to build an asset base so that when I wind down to a shorter working week I can continue to enjoy a lifestyle and if I should be forced into retirement through poor health (which is not the plan) I can still live comfortably, which no one can in NZ on a pension or benefit. I have a super scheme, I still have a mortgage. I am closing down my rental property LAQC and have sold my rental property. The Government doesn’t want people be able to claim losses from their expenses and without that I can’t afford to own rentals. I’ve invested in public companies before, but unless you are buying and selling daily, this is in my opinion a far greater risk business. Even the biggest companies make mistakes or get caught up in circumstances beyond their control and shareholders unless they are big, have little or no control over their destiny. How many Kiwis lost their life savings in the past by investing in ‘rock solid’ companies?

So I’ll invest in myself. I am studying song writing at Berklee Music on-line, which is costing me a small fortune, but if I can score 1 or 2 hits somewhere along the way, I’ll recoup that investment. I study the industries I’m involved in daily through the media, the occasional conference, networking in person and through social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter and I read a lot.

I have and continue to amass a huge amount of local and international experience in a number of industries, particularly in the application of leading edge technologies to solving business problems. Experience, I have learned takes years and is perhaps something that is least appreciated by younger people who come out of university thinking they know everything and by people who have stuck in one industry or a very small number of companies during their work career.

So to cut a long story short, I need to start planning for my long future. I need to consider a range of aspects, particularly how I want to live those years, what I want to do in them, what I want to contribute, what capital I need, how to maintain my health and fitness. Must be time for some goal setting and dream building.

I’ll leave the last word for now to Anne Brunet (who came via that other little university in Boston (not Berklee Music, but Harvard) and Thomas Rando of Stanford U.

Note the real meat of this video starts around 21 minutes in.

The GeoSmart Location Innovation Awards


During the day I work for GeoSmart Maps Ltd, a subsidiary of the NZ Automobile Association.

We have just launched the Location Innovation Awards. I’m hoping that if you are in New Zealand you will join in the fun and get your thinking juices flowing.

The background is that we know that LBS (Location Based Services) will become commonly used technology in 4-5 years and people will participate as if they have been doing it all their lives. GeoSmart has the tools to facilitate this type of technology now, so we have launched a competition to get people to develop concepts today.

There are four categories which are explained on the website (which went live today) and they have the potential to have a significant impact on people’s lives.

For example:

Imagine you are a tourist hopping off the plane at Queenstown Airport and as you head to the luggage conveyor area you see a billboard with a promotion offering you amazing deals on various local attractions. If you text ‘Queenstown Live’ to a short code, you will have $20 deducted from your account and will be offered a range of services at huge discounts. When you get to the main town pier in Queenstown you get a text message saying that if you get down to the ticket office within the next 10 minutes you can enjoy the 4P.M. jet boat experience for only $25, a saving of $70. Without the promotion, the jet boat might go out half empty. This way they sell more seats and make a profit on the trip and the tourist gets a great deal.

Or

You are a member of a jogging club on Facebook. You are in Nelson  on business and decide to stay over for the weekend. You are interested in finding a jogging buddy to go for a run with. Through an application on your phone or a map application on Facebook, you are able to locate someone to go for a run with who is also in the area.

The story we have sent to the media today is as follows:

Bringing the future forward with the Location Innovation Awards

In the near future, location based applications will be commonplace, with electronic coupons being sent to your mobile because you are near a service you have opted-in for such as a Happy Hour deal for the bar you are walking past, or a promotion from your favourite fashion retailer (with whom you have signed up and given your colour, style and size preferences) which knows that you are in the mall.

GeoSmart Maps Ltd wants to bring that future forward to 2009 and has established a competition to encourage people to come up with concepts in 4 categories, being Social Networking, Proximity Based Marketing, LBS Games and widgets for the AA MAPS website. There are prizes for each category and the overall winner will also win a trip to San Jose in the USA to attend the Where 2.0 Conference in May 2009.

The competition isn’t pitched just at developers, a proof of concept demonstration would be great, but a great concept document has just as much chance of winning great prizes from a list of sponsors including Geekzone, Tomizone, Sony Ericsson, TomTom, Vodafone new Zealand and the NZ Automobile Association.

The judging criteria are documented in the entry packs and on the official website at http://www.locationinnovation.co.nz. The judges themselves are well qualified and represent GeoSmart, Massey University, Geekzone and the Wireless and Broadband Forum.

The competition runs from 16 October 2008 and entries are to be in by 16 February 2009. The Awards will be presented at the annual Wireless and Broadband Forum Convergence 2009 event at the Alinghi Base in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin.

Skyscrapers and high society


The race is on to build the world’s tallest building, yet again. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia they are working on the first building the will be a mile high. No this isn’t a joke, it will be more then 1600 metres tall and will be called Mile High Tower. It is due for completion in 2012. You could join the mile high club without getting on a plane!

I’ve been to the top of buildings like the Twin Towers (and grateful for the experience and respect to those who died or were injured when she came down) and Sears Tower, well this is almost 3 times as high as Chicago’s ediface.

Why are they building it? In this case mostly I suspect because they can. Because Prince al-Walid bin Talal, who owns the Savoy, can. Is he doing something that is needed because of a shortage of land in Jeddah? I don’t think so. I wonder if he hsa a very large ego that he needs to house. If the Sears Tower contains 4.4 million square feet the Mile High Tould have to have close to 10 times that amount of space because the base would have to be enormous to hold up the rest of the structure.

Aside from all the issues of building and trying to pump wet concrete a mile into the sky, there are also power issues. Imagine how much electricity it would take to power a building like that? Suggestions are that the building can house a huge number of solar panels and in many cases it’s height could mean that while it is raining on lower floors, the higher floors will be basking in sunshine. maybe the ecosystem could capture boh the sun and water and try to head towards self sufficiency. As to energy use, I wonder how much energy it would take to send a room service meal from the ground to the penthouse?

This is the stuff that they have been writing about in Science Fiction for years. Imagine having a penthouse apartment that is so high up that you can’t go onto your balcony without an oxygen mask because the air is too thin. They say that from the penthouse you will be able to see the Middle East, the Pacific Ocean and Africa.

Because of the height and technology involved you would need to have 10 or more lifts just to get to your apartment. Imagine what would happen if you had to evacuate it in hurry.

A building that big would be like a medium sized town. You would have everything you need in a homogenous environment. Schools, shops, busineses, you would have your own hospital, police station, everything.

But who would want to live in such a building. Sure it would be great to have an apartment in it so that you can say you do. It would be great for corporate events. But would you want to live on the 351st floor of an apartment building? Imagine if the power went out and you had to climb down 350 sets of stairs to get to the ground.

I’ve never lived in an apartment. I’ve enjoyed staying in hotel rooms 30 floors above the ground, but this is something entirely different. I don’t much like gardening, but I do like living in a free standing home where I can turn the stereo up loud and go and sit by the pool or potter around in my rock garden. I find the whole idea of living in a building which for practical reasons, you never have to live, to be quite claustrophobic, but it will happen. Many others feel the same.

If the future means that more and more people live at great heights, this might help with the development of new transport technologies as they try to find more economic ways to move around. Who wants to spend 15 minutes standing in lifts to get to the ground floor. They won’t be able to go too fast because you are likely to suffer effects of gravity and air pressure. There will off course be helipads, but that’s a little expensive for the average person.

I’ll leave the last word to BOB with his 15 reasons to live in a skyscraper🙂

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:)

The Zimbabwe Election Result


Is it just me? Why is it that when there is a perversion of democracy in some countries, the US and other nations march in and take over to protect the people, for example Iraq, and in other cases such as Zimbabwe, nothing is going to happen until it is a total disaster. In my blog last month, I was largely focussing on the technology angle, where people were using technology such as SMS to get information out of the country. The exercise raised my awareness of the problems over there and this morning a story in the NZ Herald told of a South African Jounalist who was arrested and spent 3 days in jail for being in Zimbabwe without accreditation.

I was pleased to see that Condoleezza Rice came out on Friday criticising South Africa for not taking a more positive stand and it is fair that they should start looking there. Could it be that ZA is taking a soft position because the black people have thrown the white people out? I did see on TV recently that there were many black refugees who had crossed the border and were biding their time in South Africa hoping that eventually the tide would turn and it would once again be safe to return to their homes, or what is left of them.

Of course my bent is on technology and oe of the things I love about the modern Internet environment is that it makes it very difficult to totally censor information. There are countless ways to get information out of a country despite political interference. In the old days journalists had to smuggle film and other documents over the border at great personal risk. Today there are mobile phones, satellite phones and many other ways of getting information out.

There are also great ways to use technology to show information and one of these is the Google Mash Up. The Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group have devised a web site which shows information spatially information about ‘election conditions’ where you can see the sites of incidents and through pop up windows read information about them. Even for someone who has never been there, this gives a much more real perspective of what is happening over there.

There are also countless blogs coming out of the country, giving details from organisations as well as heart wrenching diaries from individuals.

SMS continues to play a major part and a recent article in CIO Magazine shows an innovative way that an SMS Hib has been used to not only help share information with the people through subscription phone lists, but also to help promote democracy and political participation by encouraging people to say what they would like the country to be like after the election.

Something that also stands out in the human psyche of oppressed people is their ability to laugh and joke about their position. I think this performs a number of functions, one it is a passive form of protest, but it is also a coping mechanism. It appears that SMS is frequently used in Zimbabwe to share these jokes. An example is a text message passed from one person to the next like:

“We would like to apologise to the nation for the late release of the presidential results. This is due to the rigging process, which is proving to be more difficult that we had anticipated.”

This interesting concept is explored by Mobile Active a global network focussed on the use of mobile technology for positive purposes.

The mobile phone continues to have an amazing impact on society that was never envisaged when it was first developed as a business tool. They are enabling knowledge sharing in ways that are providing freedom of expression and information sharing and making the world a much smaller place. There was a time that people could enforce their wishes on minorities in less developed countries with impunity and noone would be any the wiser. Today it is all but impossible to censor people and something uttered from a hidden room in Harare can be heard all over the world microseconds later. If only we could get the powers who profess to support democracy and freedom for all people, regardless of race, creed or gender, to act before any more innocent people are injured and killed and people’s lives and livelihoods are destroyed forever.

Seth Godin et al


When I was at Song Summit Sydney organised by APRA a few days ago many speakers made suggestions of books to read as well as blogs and other sources of data. One speaker suggested that all song writers who want to market themselves should read Seth Godins Blog.

Now I’ve been a subscriber of his for quite a long time, but don’t read every one of his blogs, I suspect that he doesn’t read any of mine, but anyway, today I decided that I should check out his recent postings to see what was new and found a sage bit of advice, which is “Write like a bloger”. This is great advice and I can attest to it’s value.

Many people love to pontificate and show off their literary prowess by using the longest and most obtuse language and jargon they can think of and it makes their writing boring. Over the years I have written as a freelance journalist and magazine columnist, mostly about technology and of course there was also my book Unleashing the Road Warrior. I always wrote in a conversational manner and I frequently got positive feedback including pone calls, emails and letters to editors in the publications I wrote for. The result of my writing style was:

  1. People felt like I was talking to them and many people feel like they know me even if we haven’t met, with the consequence that when I spoke at conferences and seminars people would come up and talk to me because I was acessible.
  2. People understood what I was talking about and were able to find the information they needed.
  3. I got a lot of business out of it as well as opportunities to speak and present at events all over the world.

I am still in the technology world, although the majority of my writing these days is about my other passion, which is songwriting and I hope eventually to do this full time. All I need is my first number one hit:) In songwriting the same thing is true. Your writing needs to be accessible to your target market. If you are writing for a teenage audience, your language needs to fit the way they think and talk, but it does of course also have to be authetic.

When I wrote my song ‘Another Stretch in Iraq‘ I wrote it for Americans who had served or were serving and I spent 6 months researching the topic. Yes, I used some phrases that weren’t exactly as you speak them and I used some metaphor, but we do that in speech anyway don’t we, I don’t think I’ve opened a can of worms here. I picked up some jargon like MRE, which is short for Made Ready To Eat or is otherwise known as rations. A lot of people won’t get that, but the they aren’t my target audience for the song. The proof was in the pudding.

When I played this song to a live audience in the USA last year the reaction was amazing. One guy co-incidentally known a Mack came to the stage after I played the song with tears in his eyes. He said he had served in Desert Storm and his son was on furlough in Hawai and about to head back to Iraq for another stretch. He said that listening to the lyrics took him right back to the front, so to speak. Even though I had never been there, I had done my homework and made it real, I wrote’ in Seth Godin’s terms, “like a blogger”, and when people listened to the song, it was almost as if they were talking to themselves.

The important thing which I think Jimmy Webb said in his presentation at S3 was to know your market and to write to it. A great song is one that people listen to and totally relate to. They should feel like they own the song, as if it was written for them, or in fact almost as if they wrote it themselves. Then they are in fact relating to themselves.

The thing is that you are the most important person in the world, although my wife says that she has to be the most important person in my world, but if I don’t exist in the first place then she can’t be important to me. Let me put that another way. If we had a party on the weekend and I came to see you with a pile of photos that were taken at the party. Now unless you were incredibly attracted to someone there, which photos will you spend the most time looking at ? (now I don’t want to get involved with genderalisations here (yes I know that word doesn’t exist, but this is my blog right?) but which photos are you going to spend the most time looking at? your own of course).

So my goal as a songwriter, which was ultimately the purpose of this blog is to write commercial songs, i.e. hit songs and part of my method in doing that, in writing like a blogger, is that the person who sings along with the radio or performance feels like the song is theirs, that it is about them, that they own the experience that the song is about.

By the way, if you happen to know an artist or A&R person looking for a new song, please point them in my direction:)

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:)