Joining the Dots
The first Sunday Read
came out on November 11th, last year and I have, since, written one up every Sunday, without fail. Everything here is an experiment. It lets us understand how we work, internally, as well as what the dynamics that govern us are, and this one is no different. In writing it I have been able to take a step back and observe the workings of my own brain, the way it latches onto nodes of information that may not appear to be related and then, in an intuitive leap of analytical insight makes them make sense by contextualizing their occurrence within a wider matrix that affects us all.
It is a process as strange to me, to observe from the outside in, as it must be to you (I think) though there is a certain amount of instructional value to the process (which I hope won’t creep you out). With that in mind let’s go and join the dots this Sunday and see just what kind of sea of data we are each floating in.
And dot number 1 is Lars and the Real Girl
) a 2007 film I came across as my carry-on entertainment on a flight. Released as a comedy-drama (Hollywood just cannot
do classifications any more) it’s the story of how Lars (played by Ryan Gosling), develops a mental fixation on an anatomically correct sex doll whom he calls Bianca and thinks is real (http://goo.gl/6KC2XB
). On the advice of his doctor the small town he lives in plays along, but what is important here is one particular scene where Lars and Bianca turn up at a party.
Accepting the artificially perfect Bianca as ‘real’ suddenly all the women there begin to feel self-conscious of their own appearance. Bianca, standing in for an idealized and impossibly perfect form of womanhood, makes them conscious of the standards they compare themselves to all the time. While the men, at the party, responding to the very same “idealized and impossibly perfect form of womanhood” exhibit envy at Lars’ ‘girl’ and ask the kind of questions men ask of each other, in situations like this.
Dot number 2 is an unintended revisiting of the same territory, last year, with Her
) where Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely, introverted man who starts a relationship with an operating system, he calls Samantha. (http://goo.gl/ZKIeVx
The two films, six years apart, revisit the exact same territory and, despite differences in setting and intrinsic scale, exhibit the same dynamic. What is of real interest to us here is the way our minds, once they accept something as real make it real: http://goo.gl/GcVoEz
But the true connecting pattern here is dot number 3: Google’s patent on social bots that could autopost for us in “our voice”: http://goo.gl/dRbXa6
. Filed on 17th June 2011 as changes to search were pointing to a semantic search ramp up it was reported by the BBC last November (http://goo.gl/JWs9cZ
) amongst concerns to what it might do to our sense of the ‘real’.
William Gibson (http://goo.gl/L6REt
) fans will understand dot number 4 that first appeared in Idoru
) notable for its articulation of the ability to spot nodal points (http://goo.gl/r3pu3h
) in information systems, Idoru
also gives us, in 1997, the first notion of a virtual star whom men want to marry, which leads us to present day (and dot number 5) where a Japanese man has married, in real life, a videogame character (http://goo.gl/WRm9xY
You may be tempted to dismiss this given Japan’s propensity for confusing the real and the virtual (http://goo.gl/nzjLK7
) particularly when one of the reasons cited is the messiness of real life (http://goo.gl/xthhN5
) but there is no denying that the envelope is being pushed (http://goo.gl/kSjh98
). Robots are coming (http://goo.gl/QKZ3wX
) and uncanny valley or not (http://goo.gl/h6XN
) pragmatism suggests that we shall see more and more of this.
The Obama Administration is certainly taking all this seriously (http://goo.gl/LzncPj
) which leads us to dot number 6 (http://goo.gl/YW07b2
) where Associated Press are using algorithm-driven bots to write some content which then leads to a subversion (and inversion) of the classic content-creation intent: http://goo.gl/G6ea44
Dot number 7 is the fact that this is not as novel as you may think, with one company already having an algorithm appointed to its Board of Directors (http://goo.gl/j810Hh
). All of this will make more sense when we see dot number 8 (http://goo.gl/F5PnQD
) Facebook’s creepy experiment in mood manipulation detailed by +Gideon Rosenblatt
. Facebook has, of course, been experimenting for some time (http://goo.gl/QOGJoA
) on a variety of fronts but it’s the ability to mine data for emotions that is of use here (http://goo.gl/j1XWkq
) as Google is, inevitably, part of this same picture.
All these dots add up to something more meaningful when you consider that semantic search is about calculating and remembering the value of relationships (edges) between people and things (nodes) and, already, there is a proposal to use existing social media data to create living avatars of those who are dead (http://goo.gl/jyCJt1
As it happens, in my visit to Poland, last month, I spoke in public to a largely non-tech audience, about how this is only another step towards what we do now, where those of us who have experienced loss already ‘talk’ (from time to time) to those no longer with us, in our minds. From a certain perspective this is no different. Yet, as dot number 9, Transcendence
) suggests the potential is for the animating algorithms to articulate something more than an echo of what has passed (http://goo.gl/QNafuo
Google’s Ray Kurzweil (http://goo.gl/3AdxK
) thinks this is the natural next step. The fact is that the development of our technology has accelerated to the point where our ethics and philosophy have fallen far behind as dot number 10 shows: http://goo.gl/0Ekf0S
There is a picture being revealed by degrees, here. Will ‘dead’ people have rights? Should there be a law prohibiting the hiring of virtual people or avatars of dead ones? We are entering into a new phase where the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ are in s phase transition. Online and offline are becoming synonymous and organic and synthetic are in what I call phase alignment.
This leaves us, people, smack bang in the middle of it all, struggling to cope with daily pressures, personal loss, confusion, fears and a pronounced sense of our own inadequacies, as best as we can. Our one hope in all this, is this: G+. The connectivity, dialogue, discussion and connections we make that allows us to talk about it all and offer a support network, of sorts, to each of us who needs it. This is the real subversion taking place as we, through our interactions, friendships and connections, humanize technology, using it to both amplify and overcome the limitations of our humanness. The ‘future’ is not
coming. It is already here. And it is us.
I want to thank each of you for reading this. More than that, I want to thank so many of you who interact, respond or +1 each Sunday Read
. It makes me determined to keep on writing them as long as there is an audience for them.
This has been a longer read than usual, but the rabbit hole of my own mind stretches far, at times. I hope you came prepared with gallons of coffee and mountains of sugary treats. It is July and summer (at least for half of us) and it’s 2014. A good year to be alive and thinking in. Have a great weekend, wherever you are. #davidamerlandsundayread #futurology #semanticanalysis