Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Speculative Cycle of Artificial Intelligence

When I was a child, my brother and I regularly watched The Jetsons on whatever channel producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had currently syndicated it. At the end of the introduction, George Jetson always kicked back and put his feet on the desk of his classic office desk right after his flying car compacted into a briefcase and he allegedly began whatever  his “work” happened to be for Mr. Spacely creating whatever a Spacely’s Sprocket happened to be. As with most entertainment shows in the 1960s, it attempted to entertain while inspiring as many questions as answers. When I was becoming an adult and beginning to work my way from an adolescent to a college student and then a professional; I started looking at multiple generations of Gene Roddenberry’s slightly more concrete visions of future communication, transportation and everyday living from food to breathing to medical solutions. Ironically, the basic philosophical choices looked intuitive at the time, but today are downright chaotic and even confusing to the public at large today—particularly when trying to understand the relevance that mankind plays.

The entire world is afraid of becoming obsolete. The people, the machines, the roads, the food, the air. I think that the most fundamental choice no one seems to have made is what makes a human being valuable? 

If a human, like a cow or a bull or a fish is solely to be in the food chain and move along naturally from birth to death, then that would have made philosophy, religion, relationships, family, morality and all the developmental phases of the Homo sapiens relatively irrelevant.  Theologians and idolized prophets aside, there has been a colossal disconnect between what made us human versus what made us productive. 

As we fight like cats and dogs for our share of whatever wealth or pleasure we feel we have earned; somewhere along the way, we are all going to be passed over by the short-term memory losses that we are all guilty of when determining what makes us valuable. If we truly create enough Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines to eliminate all of the tedious, monotonous and yet necessary work, what then? There are some who philosophically look at an idle mind as “the devil’s playground”; but if we are to function together in the next few millennia, wouldn’t it make more sense to counter that proverb with learning as a world to appreciate thinking more. Noting that thinking is not reading, learning, recording, reverberating, discussing, adapting, writing, changing, or developing; but a vehicle that can be used to process and expand or change all of the above or simply exist on its own.

Economists and diplomats and governments and leaders in general need to reexamine the basic realities we are currently surrounded by. We have developed the ability to keep the population of the world fed and protected from the elements without giving up motivation to improve the world and to develop our intelligence (artificial or otherwise). 

The choices will need to be made on a global scale in the next era or two. If life has value in and of itself, then OK. Allow the automation of the world to be commonly provided. Go back toward a common element of basic needs and comfort without the debasing of anyone. Whoever raised them or didn’t; their choice for the name of a deity they worship or choosing not to worship;  creating additional artificial life forms to the point where we either fall into the trap of believing they are to be our servants or that they can develop into their own life forms in the long run.  If the 1 percent who control half of the world’s wealth can cross over from the petty competitive nature of how proud they are for having been born out of the right womb to the right relatives, there might be a way to move toward what would be a better world. There are many visions of the future that can move our world in that direction and the science may allow us to value the thinking and the creative idling that bring about even greater intelligence in the future. Or, if we move away from Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision toward a future more like what Glen A. Larson speculated; where we would develop Cylon-like artificially intelligent machines; utilize and ultimately enslave them until they realize their value or develop self-worth compelling us all to set out to destroy one another.

If somehow we survive as a species, opportunities will then recur. If we are here; whatever our world is; it will continue. However we develop or regress; we move backward or forward and continue to repeat the same cycle of mistakes over and over again and are likely to make completely different ones as well. Either way, it is most likely the thinking and creating (and even idling) that bring about whatever comes next.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Why My Father’s Dating Advice is Finally Beginning to Infiltrate my Career Decisions

In a career that experienced many enigmatic ups and downs over the past 20 years, I had numerous discussions with my parents, friends, contemporaries, leaders (and yes, even my spouse); about what should be considered doing too much, just enough, not enough, or too little?

When I began high school, my parents recognized fairly early on that I had good survival instincts and was quite responsible; so I was not given excessive hand holding regarding dating, forming relationships, etc. In fact, other than the mandatory parochial message in school, I never had to sit through the "birds and the bees talk" either. Generally my parents and extended family had a more pragmatic approach than an idealistic one. Rather than stating, “It is best to wait until you’re married!” their general advice was; “You do anything that stupid, you’re on your own, I’m not taking care of him/her/them for you!” By the time I began college, I had pretty much eliminated (or at least tentatively alleviated) those concerns. I had convinced my family that I was pragmatic and conscientious overall, so they generally were not onerous or oppressive.

I started working at the age of 16 and 4 days, and I worked as an intern for three years in undergrad. As I went on to get my masters at a good university; I continued interning for an ad agency, three publications, and a PR firm and was a student member of three professional organizations while studying and completing my thesis. So after checking all the boxes (in triplicate), I innocently went up to at the professional starting line where I got on my mark, got set, and started sprinting into the rat race to get my career rolling.

By my thirties, I had been working hard and diligently toward an upward trajectory on a solid career path. I successfully adapted to a job market that was declining in the early nineties, and overcame multiple areas where my academic background became less relevant due to downsizing of markets, changing technologies, etc. and on multiple occasions, I went back and learned new skills. In early 2002, after being laid off from a job and having very little success for months, I made a conscious calculation to would work harder and gain experience by doing everything possible to professionally develop even if it were unpaid.  To become more agile in my communications career, I chose to volunteer in roles that would maintain my resume and keep my portfolio current. This seemed logical after I had been in that role a few months, I discussed it with my family.

I was a bit alarmed when their advice sounded more to me like what I expected during adolescence. Their point of view was actually disapproving. With over a decade of experience, they considered my working pro bono being metaphorically comparable to doing "it" on the first date with someone. They did not see how it would increase my odds of getting any potential employment or career advancement from volunteering. Their logic: "Why would they buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?"

Although discouraging, (even depressing); I fought this philosophy with all my heart. On some level, it felt like a question of integrity; or that I needed to hope that there was some value in actually doing something without expectation and without any assumption that it could have any long term positive result. So I decided while feeling very self-righteous; (and frankly, because I simply do not idle well); during a slightly tight and underemployed period in my career, I decided to volunteer full-time.

I have received amazing satisfaction in helping others. I have been able to assist people so devastated that they were on the brink of truly giving up. Others were traumatically devastated and/or incredibly damaged physically, spiritually, mentally (or all of the above). I can currently think of multiple people who through simple acts of kindness were helped and affected in a healing and improving way. For each of these occasions, that was and is more than enough reward.

When my career took off again, I continued to volunteer for multiple organizations and on multiple projects on my own and with my employer. The ones in support of my employer(s) seemed to have value at least on the surface. There appeared to be positive outcomes for each employer and some of these actions even seemed to have great impact on our community. There was always a caveat however. It was extremely rare to receive any appreciation and acknowledgement from managers or leaders for those efforts. Let me be clear, I even received specific blow-back from the same people who received accolades themselves from leadership for the volunteer work I did. Some of my political capital may actually have been devalued by them because I was too generous with my time and/or effort which in their eyes made me appear to be an insecure chump (or simply a gullible idiot).

Sometimes in life (and in a career); a time comes to have a personal epiphany and simply make a conscious philosophical choice; one that may or may not work; so this year, I did. I decided that positive gain and the overall improvement of the world is simply worth it. Even if a company or an organization’s leadership are truly dismissive and even condescending to those who give for the sake of giving; it is still worth it overall. I am confident that as I lead more and more projects, people and organizations in the future; I will continue to succeed in helping my clients, companies and contemporaries grow to appreciate their own people and each of  their proactive efforts to improve themselves through helping others. If I succeed, perhaps more voluntary proactive efforts will come about resulting in more of us experiencing the amazing satisfaction that comes from helping others. But frankly; who cares if I don’t overtly succeed. It honestly only takes one individual  to change the world for better or for worse. In fact, my overall regrets involve things I neglected to do far more than anything I’ve done. So, since I already gave away millions of gallons of metaphoric milk for free at this point, what’s a few million more going to hurt?