Saturday, October 19, 2013

Disruptive Tech, by Google's Eric Schmidt

As we begin to say, 'We're going to take the analog world of biology—how genes work, how diseases work—put them in a digital framework, calculate for a while, do some machine learning on how things happen,' we'll be able to not only help you become a better human being, but predict what's going to happen to you physically in terms of your health.
Eric Schmidt makes vital point off-the-bat in this interview:  The question isn't which technologies are interesting.  Rather the question is which technologies can have volume impact on helping people.  

Enter: Scale concepts, which I have been mulling over and describe in a lengthy article Eradicating Poverty:
  • Geometric progression
  • Fibonacci sequence
  • Rubik's Cube
  • Mozart's opera
Enter: Biology.  In particular, Schmidt keen for technology to help us better understand how the brain, DNA and protein work.

What’s happened in technology is that a new set of ultrapowerful, ultralight, ultraconductive
materials can now be manufactured at scale. And there’s a revolution, largely driven by a set of
universities, around new kinds of these manufacturing services that will change everything. 
So that revolution, plus the arrival of three-dimensional printing, where you can essentially build
your own thing, means that—during the rest of our lifetimes, anyway—it’ll be possible to build very interesting things from very interesting, new materials, which have all sorts of new properties.
Hobbyists shall have their heyday: With 3D printing, they can create sophisticated models on their computers, then conveniently "print" them as plastic objects.  But rightfully so, Schmidt envisions broader, more substantive purposes, using increasingly lighter and diverse printing material.  Think how much this will revolutionize what manufacturing companies can, and must, do.

So I think we're going to go from the sort of command-and-control interfaces where you tell the computer, like a dog, 'Bark,' to a situation where the computer becomes much more of a friend. And, a friend in the sense that the computer says, 'Well, we kind of know what you care about.'
And the ultimate model is that the computer does what it does well, which is these complicated,
analytical needle-in-a-haystack problems, and has perfect memory. And humans do what we do well, which is judgment, and having fun, and thinking about things. The relationship is symbiotic.  The computer is making suggestions that are pretty good, they’re pretty helpful, but you’re ultimately in charge.
Reference: Disruptive Technologies.

I watched Bourne Legacy this week, and again last night, and it comes to mind now as Schmidt relates this notion of My Computer, My Friend.  The film is just one of many films, portraying this vision of a super human being.  In this case, it's neurochemistry and neuropsychology to enhance physical and cognitive abilities.

That's one point.

Here's my second point.

This is something I wrote about in Kenji and our Human Reality and Paradox.  We may tout how much more capable machines and computers are than, say, a humble, earnest worker.  Yet, we work at creating said machines and computers to think, behave and relate like said worker.

So on the one hand it's intriguing to me to imagine my laptop becoming my friend at some point in the future.  On the other hand, what Schmidt says is positively silly and naive.  We may very well create such a friendly computer, but why do so?  Is it an effort to fabricate the perfect friend, that is, super human?

The technologists' comeback may be why not?

I say, Let's reflect on this paradox, and work at reconciling it better.

I want to reiterate that friendly computers are very intriguing to me, and I believe that it is simple a matter of time before we do see a prototype of what Schmidt envisions.  The possibilities for utility, enhancement and enjoyment are wide-ranging.

But what I bring up is a moral caution: Not that we abandon our efforts, as this is virtually impossible, probably.  But that we reflect, we weigh, we debate, we reconcile what it is we, each as part of humankind, want to do and what we're actually doing.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD        

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