Sam Harrelson

Faster horses

I don’t know… this feels a little like Henry Ford’s “if I had asked what people wanted, they would have said a faster horse” approach to utilizing tech to save humans time…

Like Google, we envision a future that’s based on collaboration between humans and machines. Where we seem to differ is that we believe a human handoff is essential when initiating a conversation between an AI assistant and a human. This human acknowledgement of AI preserves the human to human relationships and makes resuming the non transactional parts of the conversation much more natural. With their policy reversal, it sounds like Google has realized that you need to at least let people know they’re interacting with AI.



Siri and Incarnation

The theological lens through which we might view these questions is incarnation. In an age of increased engagement with disembodied digital assistants, what might it mean for the church to counterweight this with insisting on and facilitating in-person fellowship? In an era of disembodied conversation, my prayer is that the church might be a contrast society to model a more excellent way of fully-embodied community and in-person presence.

Source: Thanks for your help, Siri. But what about that human connection? – Baptist News Global

I fundamentally disagree with John Chandler here regarding the notion that smart assistants (such as Siri or Alexa or Google Assistant or Cortana or Bixby or M or… well, there are many more) lead to more antisocial behavior or the dangers of people not interacting with other people.

Chandler also invokes the (in)famous Nicholas Carr article Is Google Making Us Stupid? from 2008. One of my favorite rebukes to that article comes from a review of Carr’s subsequent book on the topic, The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read, and Remember:

Perhaps what he needs are better strategies of self-control. Has he considered disconnecting his modem and Fedexing it to himself overnight, as some digital addicts say they have done? After all, as Steven Pinker noted a few months ago in the New York Times, ‘distraction is not a new phenomenon.’ Pinker scorns the notion that digital technologies pose a hazard to our intelligence or wellbeing. Aren’t the sciences doing well in the digital age, he asks? Aren’t philosophy, history and cultural criticism flourishing too? There is a reason the new media have caught on, Pinker observes: ‘Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not.’ Without the internet, how can we possibly keep up with humanity’s ballooning intellectual output?

Socrates feared the same fears of antisocial behavior and intellectual laziness that we project onto television, music, and now the internet in regards to books and admonished Plato to stop writing them.

Smart assistants such as Siri or Alexa do pose a whole new world of possibilities for developers and companies and groups to interact with the connected world. In just a few short years, many of us (our household included) now use these assistants to do everything from schedule events on our cloud-based calendars to turn the lights off before bed. I also stream music, play audio books, ask questions, and crack riddles with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant on a daily basis.

While we fear the inevitability of a bleak future as depicted in the movie Her from 2013 in which human beings are completely subsumed into relationships and reality driven by their own personal digital assistants and rarely interact with others, I don’t think that’s the reality we’ll see. There’s a simple reason for that… antisocial behavior is a part of our own internal psychologies and neuropathies. Projecting these fears onto tools such as Siri is misplaced. I’d argue that positioning the church to be anti-tool to encourage incarnational relationships is misplaced as well.

This isn’t the same as arguing that “Guns don’t kill people; People kill people” although that’s an easy leap to make. But no, what I’m arguing here has to do with coming to terms with the ongoing revelation we are making and receiving about the very nature of human thought and how our brain and nervous systems work in tandem with our concept of consciousness. Understanding that newspapers, books, radio, TV, internet, and now Siri don’t make us any more or less lazy or antisocial is an important step in understanding that the core issue of incarnation relies on relationality between humans and the universe.

I do agree with Chandler that the church should be anti-cultural in the sense that it provides a way for exploration into the concept of incarnation. But positing that experience as anti-tool or anti-specific-technology seems to undercut the very notion of the incarnation’s theological and ongoing event in history (call that the kerygma or the Christ event or God Consciousness etc).

Yes, technology can be addictive or exacerbate issues. But let’s address the fundamental issues of culture and personal psychologies that the church is led to do with a healthy and holy notion of inter-personal and inner-personal relationships.



Most People Don’t Want Privacy

The broader question is the tradeoff between privacy and advertising. While a tempting noun, most people don’t really *want* privacy, let alone understand what that means. It’s definitely not an unattainable goal, but it does require work… which is something many of our fellow citizens are reluctant to pursue when it comes to such technological conditions.

Third, Google and Facebook’s advertising advantage, already massive, is going to become overwhelming. Both companies generate the majority of their user data on their own platforms, which is to say their data collection and advertising business are integrated. Most of their competitors for digital advertising, on the other hand, are modular: some companies collect data, and other collect ads; such a model, in a society demanding ever more privacy, will be increasingly untenable.

Source: Open, Closed, and Privacy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson



Anil Dash: 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech

Good read:

So many of us who create technology, or who love the ways it empowers us and improves our lives, are struggling with the many negative effects that some of these same technologies are having on society. But perhaps if we start from a set of common principles that help us understand how tech truly works, we can start to tackle technology’s biggest problems.

Source: 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech



Artificial Intelligence Opens the Vatican Secret Archives

Like all artificial intelligence, the software will improve over time, as it digests more text. Even more exciting, the general strategy of In Codice Ratio—jigsaw segmentation, plus crowdsourced training of the software—could easily be adapted to read texts in other languages. This could potentially do for handwritten documents what Google Books did for printed matter: open up letters, journals, diaries, and other papers to researchers around the world, making it far easier to both read these documents and search for relevant material.

— Read on www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/04/vatican-secret-archives-artificial-intelligence/559205/



10 most downloaded iPhone apps in the world

It might be surprising to Americans, but neither Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube is the most downloaded app on the iPhone anymore. As we continue to move into the 21st Century, we’re seeing the rise of Chinese apps and companies. This will only escalate in the coming years, especially as the US seems more preoccupied with tribalistic policies.

“Known as Douyin in China, Tik Tok is a music video and social media app. The app lets you shoot and edit short clips, then add music and special effects to them. Tik Tok is owned by the same parent company that bought social video app Musical.ly for $1 billion last year”

Facebook-owned apps dominated the App Store charts during the first three months of the year, but a Chinese-made music video app called Tik Tok took first place – Business Insider



Twitter says to change your password 🙄

Can we all agree that passwords have outlived their usefulness and we need a new system of credentialing?

money.cnn.com/2018/05/03/technology/twitter-password-bug/index.html



One Step Closer to Quantum Computing

20 qubits have been entangled together and put into one network. Huge… computing is about to get “spooky” as Einstein would have said.

In high school physics, electrons bounce between two layers, like a car changing lanes. But in reality, electrons don’t exist in one place or one layer — they exist in many at the same time, a phenomenon known as quantum superposition. This odd quantum behavior offers a chance for devising a new computer language — one that uses infinite possibilities. Whereas classic computing uses bits, these calcium ions in superposition become quantum bits, or qubits. While past work had created such qubits before, the trick to making a computer is to get these qubits to talk to one another.

Via Space.com



Computational Explosion

Sergey Brin, President of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), on the computational explosion over the last few years and near-future possibilities of quantum computing in the annual Founders Letter:

The power and potential of computation to tackle important problems has never been greater. In the last few years, the cost of computation has continued to plummet. The Pentium IIs we used in the first year of Google performed about 100 million floating point operations per second. The GPUs we use today perform about 20 trillion such operations — a factor of about 200,000 difference — and our very own TPUs are now capable of 180 trillion (180,000,000,000,000) floating point operations per second.

Even these startling gains may look small if the promise of quantum computing comes to fruition. For a specialized class of problems, quantum computers can solve them exponentially faster. For instance, if we are successful with our 72 qubit prototype, it would take millions of conventional computers to be able to emulate it. A 333 qubit error-corrected quantum computer would live up to our name, offering a 10,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000x speedup.

TPUs refers to Google’s “Tensor Processing Units” as discussed here last year.

The common notion that computers, phones, tablets etc have peaked and now we have tech that is “good enough” and has reached a nice plateau is a false lull in the upward trajectory of computing power. We’ll see tech innovations that “trickle down” to the general global population in the next decade that will cause disruption and rapid change in all parts of our lives from medicine to education to finance to government to interacting with our daily environments (and other people there).



Google’s Podcast Strategy

“Our team’s mission is to help double the amount of podcast listening in the world over the next couple years,” says Google Podcasts Product Manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen.

Source: Exclusive: Inside The New Google Podcasts Strategy That Could Double Audiences Worldwide