Tag Archives: Human Factor

The Age of Spiritual Machines: Part 8

2019: Ubiquitous Computers: Kurzweil believes that by 2019, computers will be imbedded in furniture, clothing etc basically everything. What would be the purpose: maintaining dryness? Tracking condition? Why would people willfully grade their furniture? Human Factor: need is not clear.

Virtual Reality: There will be internet interfaces in a virtual reality, so that family members can meet up in person virtually. This definitely has a need. Just this one idea will have a billion consequence for small business owners, government and society. You could teach English in a virtual classroom without ever having to go to South Korea.

Human Factor: there will always be people who want to experience South Korea even with comparatively high costs.

Computers interact with humans in a two-way speech.

Simulated People: Simulated persons are used by companies to interact with people primarily over other human beings.

Human Factor: labour unions lobby government to intervene. What will normal people be doing while computers have taken their jobs? Luddites are not crazy (they might be wrong but they aren’t crazy), they resist change because there are immediate negative consequences. How do we make the transition from being employeed to finding something else to do in a company?

End of Paper Books: Computers will make paper books obsolete.

Human Factor: What about traditionalists who like reading from a paper book. Downloaded books don’t have the same feel as an actual book. Not sure he’s right on that one. There will always be a large number of people who want to read books traditionally. Why assume that most people will read at all?

Robot Sex: People will have sexual relationships with automated personalities. These machines look exactly like human beings. But they cannot pass the Turing Test which is a test to see whether humans can deceipher the difference between robot and human in a controlled experiment.

Human Factor: Cultural norms would severely shun anyone having sex with a robot, in a similar way that they shun blow-up dolls. Even if the robot is convincing, one has to ask the ethical question of how that robot should be treated? How would marriage work? This might be extremely anti-social behaviour. Conservative governments would likely outlaw robot sex.

Privacy is a major social issue. This is definitely likely as it is occurring in 2008.

Everything is wireless.

Rotating Memories are obsolete.

Computers help paraplegics walk and climb stairs through a combination of computer controlled nerve stimulation and exoskeletal robotic devices.

Human Factor: Kurzweil basically doesn’t consider that most people in the world do not have a personal computer today. Most people live in abject poverty. Where does their fate fit into his predictive rubric? Will they all have computers in 2019?

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The Age of Spiritual Machines: Part 4

Attacking Luddites, Cautious Progressivism & The Frankenstein Factor

Kurzweil tries to portray the original luddites as a small crazed movement that was inevitably destroyed. Luddites were originally a movement against textile manufactures in 19th Century England. They didn’t like how manufacturing had led to increased child labour, starvation and mass migration. These are negative, albeit short-term consequences of technology. The problem is that Kurzweil only sees the benefits of technology and believes that these luddites just needed to get other jobs, even if many British peasants ended up in the poor house. Kurzweil implies that this doesn’t matter, technology and change are great at all costs. The atom bomb’s use on Hiroshima is part of that progress. It is important to note that the luddites are a manifestation of the Human Factor. They may have been wrong to destroy the new weaving machines but they represent a broader human response to new technology; that is why the Segway is not a victim a fringe group of luddites but the wider public. Kurzweil goes so far as to demonizes those who might criticize his complete faith in the virtue of computer technology. Kurzweil blatantly demeans those who might criticize his ideas by quoting the most famous luddite of the 20th century: Ted Kaczynski (the “Unabomber”). Kaczynski is a criminal. This is a cheap attempt to associated evil with resistance or even questioning the value of change.

An example of where Kurzweil demonstrates absolute faith in the value of technological advancement despite obvious evidence that there are negative consequences in his theory of economic growth. Kurzweil makes the false claim that technology is fueling the expansion of economic well-being. He is ascribing technological advancement as the source of growth, not the people using the technology, new expansion of resources, changing international prices, changing demand etc. America’s economic growth has been below .5% for the past few years. Should we blame technology for the slow down and then claim technology is responsible when there is major growth? Kurzweil is not academic enough for my liking. Also, most economists point to the 1896 world depression as being caused by increased communication through telephone wires. Product sales increased in 1896 but products could not be delivered at the fast rate of demand causing an economic depression. Technology may trigger some depressions, technology may appears to trigger economic growth. Technology is part of the story not the whole story: something a computer scientist might have trouble believing. Kurzweil even hilariously attributes the fall of communism to technology! (172, AoSM) These claims are dubious.

A more balanced approach should be given to technology then the one that Kurzweil ascribes. This is called the cautious progressivists. They are not luddites. They are just more cautious than Kurzweil and they don’t believe in inevitability. Nothing is inevitable. They take into account the Human Factor and have learned from history that technology is not something to advance for its own sake alone. Everyone knows Frankenstein but few people understand the point of Shelley’s novel. Frankenstein is a harsh warning about the dangers of exploratory science on morality, human wellbeing…you know the people that technology should serve. Humanity is not impervious to disasters that are brought on accidentally by our own faith in technology: Chernobyl, the Titanic, Hiroshima, and yeah…even Jurassic Park. Kurzweil should re-read Frankenstein. This isn’t to say that technology is pure evil, it allows us to share ideas on a blog etc. Some great ideas may not actually benefit humanity in whole or in part, we should know that science is a powerful thing that must be handled with absolute care.

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The Age of Spiritual Machines: Part 3

The Human Factor

I believe the human factor makes Kurzweil’s predictions unlikely to be true. No future can be predicted accurately, that is extremely foolish. The Human Factor is the term used in this article to describe that unpredictable humans nature which is capable of  changing their political views. Kurzweil’s focus on computer science has limited his ability to take into account other major factors in the development of computer technology in all society, like wars for example.. That is, human behaviour dictates whether a certain innovation is viable. If there is no need or market demand and yet a technology is available, that technology will not be viable on moral grounds, and policy grounds. The differences in human behaviour make certain technology such as the internet more present in the United States than in China. The human factor explains why the Japanese produce and play better computer games than the Germans or French who have different cultural behaviours. If Kurzweil addressed this problem seriously, he would have a much more credible book albeit he would have to admit that his book is mostly pretty much bullshit.

To illustrate the importance of the Human Factors, we can turn to the classic Segway case. The Segway was supposed to change the way people commuted in urban centres. Walking would no longer be the primary form of transportation. The Segway was imaginative and bold. In the excitement of computer and motorized advances, the scientists failed to take into account that health consciousness was an emerging cultural phenomenon. The Segway never gained the popularity that was anticipated because of the ‘attachment anxiety’ humans have for….walking! The problem with regard to technology becoming viable is that the culture, psychological, socioeconomic (all under the umbrella of Human Factors) may resist some technological advances. Like the computer nerds behind Segway, Kurzweil fails to seriously address why most of his imaginative predictions would be desirable to 95% of the people (those who aren’t already obsessed about technological possibilities like living forever).

Other examples of the Human Factors influencing technological predictions include: more paper being used because of computers, VHS defeating superior BETA technology, robots in every household by 1980, Martian colonies by 2010, laser-guns, flying cars etc.

Successfully predicting the Human Factor would mean complete order in the future. If we could map out all human beings, it is likely that most people would intentionally randomize their behaviour further rejecting a technology that pre-determines their entire existence. Complete computer mapping of all human behaviour would likely result in the end of creativity which is a product of chaos/randomness. Not being predictable is what makes life worth living. Fortunately, human behaviour is difficult to predict if not because of the complexity of the Human Factors but because humans change over time. Change is what academics always complain about. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World highlights the dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress. The Human Factor stands to gain from remaining….human. How do we define a person? What is sacred? Should anything be sacred about our lives? What do we want to keep about human behaviour? Is there any traditions that will be valid in the 2100? Should we protect these traditions? Why do humans reject change? Academics do in fact make predictions, they will suggest certain possibilities and think about their result but they never claim that anything they do is certain because of the Human Factor. If someone could completely predict all human factors’ influence on technology they would be the most powerful person on earth. Bill Gates is one of the most powerful men on earth, not surprisingly, he has a keen sense of human behaviour. His ability to guess accurately the Human Factor explains his successful work with Microsoft. The formula below explains the Human Factor:

Human behaviour = Unpredictability.

Most people who do not have a degree in computer science will ask; Is technology always a positive thing, like for example nuclear weapons? The question isn’t Can we do something but should we do that something?…This is a manifestation of the Human Factors.

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