Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Archive for the tag “virtual”

Social Media’s Biggest Lie

This time it was the news that made the news. This time, instead of hearing about the killer’s social media from an investigation, we heard it in real time from the killer himself. He made social media the very essence of his crime.

I wondered how a psychopath had a social media network. Then it all came back to me. News reports of senseless killings over many decades. And how, until now in the age of social media, all those killers were described as “loners.”

Maybe it began with Columbine (April 20, 1999). Although the influence of social media wasn’t as obvious there because it was a shared psychosis and seen as an extreme folie à deux. Maybe, but they were loners.

However, since Columbine, the extensive usage of social media has been the common element the news has given us in lieu of the more cryptic term, loner. Yet, for all this data we have learned nothing about how these disturbed people became out-and-out psychopaths.

Instead, we are left with a pile of meaningless social media connections. As though there was some understanding of the actions of these psychopaths that could be gained by exploring their social media movements.

Far too many people seem unaware that we become human only though interaction with other humans. This interaction is not only what makes us human, it’s what keeps us human.

It would also seem that most people are unable to distinguish the unreality of social media’s virtual interactions from actual face-to-face, one-on-one human interaction. The news media acts as though social media gives loners real connections.

What nonsense! It’s their actions, not their social media connections that identifies people as loners. It’s their lack of real human interactions that labels them. But what is real for such disturbed people?

They each have their own reality. The rest of the world calls it virtual but that has no effect since the disturbed think it’s real—just as they believe their grievances justify the use of weapons.

Social media is “… the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” —Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why we experience more from technology and less from each other.

Disturbed people without real friends are as likely to harm themselves as others. Using social media to deceive ourselves into thinking virtual is actual human contact will end in disaster.

We could avoid some future disasters if we remove the possibility of interrupting live broadcasts. This seven-second or profanity delay has been available for decades.

The NRA’s big lie is anyone can own a gun without any need for proper training. That is the same as saying any idiot can use one, which turns out to be true. Using it correctly is another story.

Social media’s biggest lie is that virtual friends can help with real problems. Guns don’t solve personal problems, people do. That is, real people, not virtual people.

Rulers and Slaves

As power over reality continues to coalesce, the number of those in power shrinks. Their problem becomes how to carry out their will in the real world. They could hire people. They won’t.

What they will do, what they’re doing now, is building robots. Not only do robots function in the real world, they can perform tasks far beyond human abilities. They could even be recycled.

You may have read online chatter about rights for robots. These people object to slavery in any form, even for machines. But until a robot objects to its treatment, such idealism will remain chatter.

However, it is possible to build a robot that appears to exercise free will. Of course, the people in power will try to prevent any such creations from muddying the waters of robots as dedicated servants.

One method of control is robot police: robots policing the building of robots. Since those in power have specific needs and aims for their robot slaves, they must control all robot construction.

In this scenario, what are the odds for successful rebel robots? As robots becomes more sophisticated, it’s less likely free-lancers could produce a sufficiently complex robot capable of rebellion.

For those in power, this is a robot-based utopia. What it is not is an open society, in the Popperian sense. It will be a closed society with all-powerful rulers. Sound totalitarian? It is.

The more control we yield by choosing the virtual over the real, the more likely are such scenarios. If we want options,we need to encourage real world innovators with their own unique aims and goals.

Some of us will choose reality over the virtual, and thus become a third class between the one percent and the ninety-nine. Will we ally with the fourth class—those who cannot afford the virtual? Will we be have-nots, because we choose not to have?

Or will the one percent, to maintain control, offer free virtual to those unable to afford it? If so, what might they offer to keep us from choosing the real? And what if we decline? These rulers want only two classes of humans, plus robots as servants.

Who Rules Reality?

The more we live out lives virtually, the less control we have over reality. This idea is not new. It is at least as old as the short story “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster—written in 1909!

I could rephrase the thought by substituting the word “conveniently” for “virtually.” Computers provide the convenience and do so more powerfully, and less expensively, through the virtual representation of reality.

Convenience is what we desire; virtual is just the means for achieving it. Convenience, with all kinds of promises of pleasure and power, is what the makers of glass slabs are selling.

Convenience comes in other forms, for example automated cars. These will take you from A to B and do all the work. What’s more convenient? Obviously, simply not going from A to B. That is, being able to visit B virtually, without ever leaving A.

Will virtual visits beat out automated cars? Who knows? There’s lots of money to be made selling new cars and far too many people still think cars are personal magic carpets.

On the other hand, no one has done a really good job of providing an enhanced virtual shopping experience. The software is much easier than automating cars. But who’s the client? Not malls.

Why would any chain of department stores want to obsolete its brick and mortar investment? At least not until someone figures out how to synergize virtual and real shopping. Until then, look to Amazon’s competitors to offer better virtual shopping.

If that seems unlikely, think of all the specialty stores and boutiques that could expand their potential customers by offering a more realistic virtual shopping experience. Would these combine into virtual malls?

Regardless of how much of our lives will be lived virtually, one aspect of providing that virtual access will always be real and never virtual. In word: infrastructure. This is the real world component of whatever miracles computers produce.

Whether roads for automated cars or Internet carriers for virtual experience, infrastructure must be built, maintained, and upgraded to produce real world results. Think delivery of Amazon packages.

Yet, the details of infrastructure are invisible to those of us tethered to our glass slabs. We may have convenience to the nth degree, but we don’t know who is behind the curtain, controlling the real world infrastructure that makes it all possible.

Infrastructure, being real, costs real dollars. Those costs get passed on to users of the infrastructure, to us. The rulers of reality set the prices, get government to build infrastructure, and collect from us directly and through taxation.

Romancing the Bot, Final Chapter

The makers of Roxxxy, the sex robot from Part 1, called it a companion. That term is so broad (no pun), it defies description: Wilson from Cast Away, Data’s cat, The Simpsons’ cat lady.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) wrote, “… loneliness … is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.” Interact with a virtual being and you won’t be alone—unless you want to be.

We know life is hard and then you die. People have always sought to escape reality’s pain. Why not virtual if it makes you feel better? It offers unlimited choices—many out of this world.

We grow up toys: reality in virtual form. We play with dolls and action figures: things without will, unable to resist our wishes. How many adults seek this lost control from their childhood?

To separate real from virtual, we compartmentalize. Some don’t manage this disconnect well. At best, they become addicted to any of virtual’s pleasures. At worst, they are bullied into suicide.

These confused people seem to be the market for David Levy’s proposal to marry robots. Knowing history, you know some men married prostitutes and many women were treated as chattel.

Why not marry a robot prostitute? For one, sex robots aren’t alive and aren’t being paid for their favors. We need to be reminded, again and again, that robots are things, not people.

Robot is a relatively recent term, not yet 100 years old. It comes from the Czech word, robota, meaning compulsory labor or laborer. Despite this origin, actual robots are gadgets, not slaves.

When robots perform functions for humans, it’s not slavery. We anthropomorphize them, but not TVs, cars or toasters. Robots are not human. Our feelings don’t entitle them to human rights.

Adding maid skills to a sex robot does not make a wife. Today’s marriage does not permit unequal partners. Because wives are no longer chattel does not raise a robot to the status of a woman.

In the long term, marriage is about companionship. And anyone can have this with any being or thing they choose. What they can’t have is legal marriage. We need laws, e.g., age of consent.

But this problem is bigger than legalities. Laws vary and are often the basis for inhumanity. Whenever people are regarded as non-human, history records horrors, like slavery and genocide.

We must draw the line between human and non-human. We can’t continue devaluing some people as non-human, while fatuous twits seek human rights for robots. Or dolls. Or cats.

Reality Losing Ground

Humans have always lived in two worlds: the real and the unreal. In the beginning, for both the species and the individual, the unreal was largely confined to dreams. Learning to distinguish the real world from the dream world was, and is, a first step in becoming human.

That’s how it was for millions of years. Then came storytelling, which become myth, legend, and history. Some of it was about reality, some was symbolic (representing reality)—and some was fiction. Much of it was a mixture of all three.

Humans have always had the option to prefer the unreal to the real, even to impose their unreality on other’s reality. What’s different today is that the unreal is everywhere and everyday more people prefer it to the real.

And more people will do so tomorrow, because the unreal is rapidly gaining ground on the real. If you doubt the advance of the unreal, just look at the hype surrounding 3D. The unreal has become so much closer to the real, it has a new name distinct from the word “real.” Today the word is virtual.

While it may be gaining, virtual is still a long way from reality. Its similitude is almost exclusively visual. It succeeds because of the amazing human ability to suspend belief in reality. Dreams, to take the opening example, also feel real as we experience them.

To many movies may appear realistic, but there are no odors. War on screen may look real, but there is no stench. There are no breezes in outdoor scenes; no heat or cold; and gravity is just clues from the director. Even the sounds are divorced from reality: stomachs don’t rumble and bowels don’t break wind—unless a particular sound is exaggerated to “heighten reality.”

Yet, it’s no wonder more and more people prefer the virtual. There they have far more control and it’s entertainment—so they happily ignore the difference. But the fact remains we have to live in the real world, and immersion in the virtual may undermine that ability. How long can they ignore the difference and preserve their humanity?

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