Connection, Connection, Connection

I’ve done something horrible—I’ve started reading the news. Actually, I’ve joined a Facebook group where we discuss the news on many levels. In one day I’ll see things about advancements in technologies, the destruction of the ecosystem, the wars in Iran, Syria, and Gaza, the crazy fundamentalism taking over American politics and the rising number of women in college entering the sex trade in order to pay their tuition.
Often, I feel overwhelmed, as if things are speeding into oblivion and I’m just here on the sidelines, watching the ship go down. In my own life, I’m faced with the California drought, and find myself doing rain dances and crossing my fingers that my well won’t run dry. I’m not afraid, but I do wonder, where is this all going?

Why is there strife? Why are we so divided as people? Why is it so hard to understand that we are one race, and the fate of the world affects each of us the same? Right now it seems our xenophobia is about religion and race, and for the most part that’s true. But as I wrote a few weeks ago about artificial intelligence, I think as a people our division is really between those who operate out of scarcity, threat assessment and fear and those who see the connections between the biosphere and our health, between war and endless hate crimes, and between the broken economy and the strife of the poor. Some of us just want to make life harder, and some want to stop the nonsense of killing one another in the name of God, and get down to the business of creating a technologically advanced society alongside the reasonable management of the Earth’s resources.

We’re all part of human history. Our choices matter. Here’s but one example. In the 1950s and 60’s, aboveground testing of nuclear weapons produced large amounts of radioactive carbon that filled our skies. Most of these tests were done on Pacific islands, but we all share the same atmosphere. Thus our air was filled with this radioactive carbon, called C14. So it’s not surprising that one of the places this toxic carbon now shows up is in our teeth! A study in 2005 showed that,

“C14 acts just like regular carbon and can react with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. Plants incorporate the radioactive carbon dioxide by photosynthesis. By eating plants and the animals that feed on plants, the C14 concentration in the human body closely parallels that in the atmosphere at any given time.”

Why do I bring this up? Because I believe that at this moment in history, the most important thing we need to understand is that we’re all connected. Our Earth is everyone’s home, and it isn’t right that our governments have been using it as a testing ground for centuries, without any concern for human health.

I fear that it will only get worse as our leaders give more and more of their power to those who simply don’t understand, or don’t care, that we’re all connected. We’re all one. What happens to you, happens to me. If another man kills you, then part of me is also killed.

There’s a name for killing oneself—we call it suicide.

Philosophically, I sense we’re on the path of suicide as a species, and we seem comfortable taking the rest of the world with us. Never mind that perhaps the other species on Earth don’t want to go down in a ball of flames. Some think technology will save us. I’m no longer sure that it can. It would take an invention so amazing that we not only begin to see one another in a new light, we also feel prompted on a mass scale to do something about it.

In the words of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, “It would take a miracle.”

Modern philosopher, Charles Eisenstein, says that a miracle is something that would be impossible in the old story, but possible in a new one. The old story is the one we’re watching destroy the Earth right now. One of separation, dominance and competition. The new story is one of connection, care and concern. It’s the More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, which happens to be the title of Charles’ latest book. If this is the case, if the solution really is a miracle, then perhaps we will make it. Perhaps there is hope.

It’s a vulnerable place to be, waiting for a miracle. In the meantime, I’m going to keep doing those rain dances…

Thoughts on Intelligence—Artificial and Human

This past weekend, I had the honor of presenting at a conference hosted by the Brighter Brains Institute and AGI Innovations, in Piedmont, California. The topic was Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity. There were many great speakers, and of course the panel discussions were lively and intelligent. The focus of my part in the day was to discuss how we might influence the morality of Artificial Intelligence.

The answer here seems very clear to me. The only way to influence the morality of anything is to be very clear about your own morality as a creator.

There are many ways to think, but all decisions, programs, and intelligence seem to come down to two very basic algorithms: Threat assessment and connection.

In the case of threat assessment, the thinker sees others in the world as a threat. What constitutes a threat varies from person to person, as it will also vary in computer applications. If you see the need to kill others in order to maintain the life you think you deserve, then kill you will. You’ll also probably invest in or create artificial intelligence to do the deed for you.

Needing to control others also falls in this algorithm of threat assessment. The other is seen as something to be manipulated for various reasons—perhaps to buy something, to believe something, or to vote for something. Again, why you need to control the other may vary, but you can be sure if you think in terms of control and manipulation, you’ll also invest in and create technologies to do it for you.

Regardless of how logically the machine thinks, it will be up to the designers, engineers and customers to give it a morality, which in this case is simply the way it’s used. Will you set it to help find the cure for cancer, or will you set it in a drone and have it hunt out your enemies?

The artificial intelligence, or technology, isn’t destructive. It’s the humans who design it use it that are destructive.

And what about connection? This is also an algorithm of thinking. In this paradigm, we seek to share resources and connect with others in order to be greater. Here’s where the AI in the cancer research lab joins forces sifting through data to help us find the solution. In this sphere AI can help a homemaker run his/her household, or organize data when planning a big event. It could even help guard against fraud in elections. It’s in the realm of connection that the Internet was born, bringing us closer than ever before in ways that were unimaginable just decades ago.

Let's hope that artificial intelligence is also born within the algorithm of connection, because I’m not sure humanity can withstand the technologies of threat assessment for much longer.

Time For An Aging Upgrade

It seems everyone I meet is afraid of growing old. It’s so bad that even thirty-six year old women bemoan that they’re reaching the age of no return, unless they can get married and have a child soon. There’s a race in our society to accomplish as much as we can, as soon as we can, because once we hit forty, we’re doomed.

Doomed from promotion, if you’re a salesperson. Doomed from motherhood, if you haven’t conceived yet. Doomed from starring in a Hollywood movie, if you’re an actress. Even in Silicon Valley, the race continues, and if you haven’t created some new great app and sold your company by the age of thirty, you might as well hang it up old man.

Personally, I think this behavior is incredibly silly. Most would say that our society encourages this insane idea that life is over by forty through advertising, media and entertainment. That advertising never worked on me. Even when I was younger, I wondered why people seemed to give it their all until middle age and then either turn to treatment after treatment to stay “young”, or let it all go and grow unhealthy quickly, as if waiting for Death to knock on their door at any minute.

The truth is, Death isn’t going to knock on our door at forty. Or even fifty. Nor is life even close to being over at middle age. What if our obsession with youth has nothing to do with what’s sold to us? What if instead, it’s an old, biologically based fear that lives within us so deeply, we don’t notice it? 

What if our consciousness hasn't caught up to the fact that humans in the Information Age live much longer than we’re programmed to think?

In the 1900’s, the average life expectancy for a male in America was 46.3. Women got a few extra years, 48.3. As the nation grew, so did the life expectancy, little by little. By 1920, the average male lived to be 53. Slowly the age went up to the 60’s by the late 1940’s and when our fathers were born, the average was at an all time high of 66!

This meant that during the advent of our entertainment, business and advertising sectors, people really did die between 40 – 50 years of age, quite regularly. So it was true back then that if one didn’t achieve their dreams by forty, they only had a few years before Death arrived and it was all over. With time, this sort of thing became the expectation—and our dreams, hopes and visions as a people went with it. But along with the growth of our nation came improvements in health care, vaccinations and medical innovation. Science has changed the game.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that life expectancy has gone up, even in the past few years. In 2009 it was 78.6, in 2010 it was 79! This means that we’ve gained an extra 30 + years in a little over a century! And it certainly means that life isn’t over at forty and if you buy into that lie, you have almost forty years of waiting around for a death that just isn’t going to happen as soon as you think.

It gets even better. In my own circle, many of the grandparents are nearing 100 when they die. In our family alone we had a grandmother live to be 92, another almost 97, an uncle who was 96 and a third matriarch who passed at 101!

When I look at these numbers I don’t feel the least bit old at forty-two. Not even close. Hell, I’m not even halfway there. I look back at all I’ve done in four decades with the satisfaction of knowing that I get to do all that, and more, in the four decades to come. Imagine it! All the people I’ve met and all the people I’ve yet to know. All the things I’ve seen, and the big wide world still waiting. All the love I’ve shared, and the intense amount of love I have yet to experience. It’s like I have a second life that's just begun. In many ways, my questions are those of the high school senior. What shall I study? Where shall I live? What's my next step as I venture out once again?

Of course, Death can take anyone at any time. Accidents happen. Cancer, heart attacks and other modern plagues are concerns. But if we’re aging naturally, which is how most of us are going to experience life, then why in the world do we race to get it all done by forty?

Personally, I can’t sit around for the next sixty years assuming I missed my chance. Every precious minute of my life is my chance.

It’s time for us to re-boot our life expectations, embrace our humanity and expect to live much longer than we ever have on this good, green Earth. Life isn’t over at forty, or fifty or even sixty. Life is long and we’re all better for it.

Besides, I haven’t even begun to take into account the Singularity, which we all know is just around the corner…