Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Future.

David:
There is a lot going on in the world today, from technology, to politics, to social issues, to entertainment. Some of these things cross over and affect each other. This week, I thought we might  review some fictional works of the future, and see how close or how far they really came to the world we live in now, and where we might be headed.

Doug:
Ok, but the future is always in the future, so any failed predictions may just not have happened yet. The timeline of future predictions is hard to get right. I tend to give futurist a decade or two leeway.

David:
Granted, but some of the books that are the best known descriptors of the future were written 80-100 years ago, such as Brave New World. I, Robot was compiled in 1950.

The discussion  wouldn't be complete without a mention of the book, 1984, which was written in 1949. The curious reality is that we are constantly being monitored, and more so every day, but rather than the government of Big Brother, we are freely asking our own computers to monitor us in our homes and on the internet. While the book portrays the ever present cameras and says as an ominous presence, our reality is that there is benefit to having your computer tailor your time online to your preferences.

Doug:
Well, we aren't freely asking to be monitored. We are trading our personal data to companies. We gain convenience so that they can have information on us. I've always said that if 1984 were to be updated to 2024, Big Brother would be Big Business. I will say that I find it very useful for Google to parse my email and automatically add upcoming events to my calendar. But I also realize that that has a cost, and I am paying it.

David:
So 1984 got some things right, but instead of a nefarious government, it's mainly been a mass collection of data provided by us, and collected by advertising agencies. However, in the case of Google or FaceBook, they are collecting data specifically to manipulate us. I find that just as alarming as if the government was doing it. Maybe more so, as no one is there are no watchdogs at FB.

Doug:
More so! The government was created to serve us. Businesses (for the most part) only want to get our money.

David: Almost all of the novels, movies, and even cartoons have consistently portrayed the future world being inhabited by bipedal, humanoid robots.



As we've now seen with Google Home and other devices, we may have little need for such robots, or ones that appear like us. Our home will be our robot. We'll walk into the kitchen after Siri wakes us up. Siri will ask if we want something for breakfast, and a counter-top device will make it for us. We'll ask if anything newsworthy happened overnight, and Siri will tailor the news to what things are likely to appeal to us, based on prior preferences. And so on, and so on. Our car will work the same way, and so will our office, which will now be at home. This is somewhat reminiscent of Hal 9000, the computer from the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Doug:
You are wrong about not needing humanoid robots. Taking care of the elderly is expensive, and hard work. Robots would be a perfect solution for this problem, and is the focus of much robotics research in other places in the world. 

Health care robotics research in Japan.


David: 
But the robots don't need to have two legs and a happy bear face to provide these services. A robot would be much more stable, and probably safer with a solid base. Right? We already have lift-chairs and other robotic devices that are available for just this purpose, without the humanoid appearance. 

Doug:
The bear face is often useful so it doesn't scare the living daylights out of grandma. But humanoid robots are often just designed to maneuver in our world, so it makes sense that they end up looking very much like us.

David:
Curiously, in the book A Brave New World, published in 1932, the government kept the masses subdued with a drug called Soma, which was a sort of tranqulizer. Either by accident, or with some purpose, since 1959 there has been a muscle relaxer marketed under the trade name of Soma. Perhaps they chose this name because the Soma from the book was described as "the perfect drug". I still find it amazing that anyone would choose to name their medication after a drug that appeared so prominently in a such an ominous portrayal of the future.

Doug:
Well, then you would be shocked to find out about the product Soylent. The movie "Soylent Green" supposedly occurred in the year 2022:


David:
Yikes!

Do you think they realize what they've done, or just thought it was a catchy, green, organic sounding name? I wouldn't drink it, because of a subliminal mental-block.

After all, IT'S PEOPLE !

Doug:
Yum! There are so many futuristic ideas about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), and some of them are close to becoming present. Your nephew, Thad, just watched the The International Dota 2 Championship. Chances are that you have never heard of it, but more people watched it than watched the Superbowl. What is it? It is a free multiplayer video game competition.


That is, in itself, a futuristic event. But the interesting aspect of the event for me was the battle between the A.I. and the humans. The AI won. How did the AI beat the best player in the world? Part was just speed of commands executed (up to 60 actions a second). But part of the strategy was faking out the humans. The AI would appear (during what was an eternity for the AI, but pretty short for humans) to be getting ready for one type of attack, but then change tactics in the last few milliseconds. 

Thad reports that humans can beat the AI, but they have to do actions that are weird and unusual, so that the AI can't predict what they are doing. (Prediction of past game movements is the central method of Deep Learning, the new successful approaches to neural networks.) I don't remember reading any old SciFi with that motive, but there probably are such stories written. 

David:
I suppose we'd be derelict if we didn't mention Idiocracy. While other books have had segments of the population become sub-human or imbeciles in the future (The Time Machine), few have actually had the entire population devolve. As I look around, I sometimes think Idiocracy will come closer to the truth that many other predictors. Sad.


Doug:
That's a nice segway into next week's topic that will happen in The Future.

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