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The Future For Mere Humans

Every time I leave class, I feel a little more and more depressed about the future for both me and human kind.  In many ways, I appreciate how our teacher is opening our eyes and getting us to see how things in the world really are, beyond our bubble.  But in some ways because I know a lot more, I am very discouraged at the options open for me.  For instance, Dr. Goldberg spoke about the possibility that any liberal arts education will be considered obsolete/ unimportant in the future and only an education in a vocational/ specific skill would be considered beneficial.  Since I am majoring in one of the many liberal arts programs I am extremely sad to think that all my hard work would not be considered worthwhile or get overlooked.

But as I look more and more into the growing role of technology and how more machines are taking over jobs, I am starting to see that many jobs will not be available to college graduates despite our major.  As companies find more and more ways to cut corners, many have turned to robots/ technology as the answer because machines can do so much more labor for a much cheaper costs and do the work more accurately.  If humans have to not only compete among themselves for the best jobs but against machines too, then I think that the future for humans is dim.  Just by watching the computer beat the humans on Jeopardy, we know that there is no way for humans to win the battle of intellect, skill or labor against machines.  Since machines do not complain or take breaks, vacation or sick leave, technology is looking more like a great and bright alternative to human labor.  Even prestigious jobs, like pharmacists and lawyers, are going to machines instead of humans.   Such a conundrum will then lead us to the issue of treating robots as slaves.

Though we cannot get away from the role that technology will play in our lives, especially its role in our jobs (or the jobs that will be left for us), I think that many people do not realize what we miss when we incorporate technology into every aspect of our lives.  When more and more machines takeover human jobs, that will mean less opportunities for humans, even those with an education, to make money.  But I feel that many corporations don’t care about that fact and only care about their bottom line and the money that can be saved by having one robot do the jobs of 20 people.  With more people struggling to find jobs, decreased spending, poverty and other social problems will only become more pronounced.

I guess if one was to see good news it would be in the article  “How Technology Is Eliminating Higher-Skill Jobs” which states that menial jobs like being a janitor will still be available to people because robots are still not good at that.  Other jobs that are still available (for now) for people are jobs like doctors and nurses, even though more machines are able to do some of their duties like taking blood pressure.  It’s the jobs that are for middle class people like bank tellers, airline check in agents and accountants are being taken away by robots.

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Why Don’t We Care?

In this digital technology class, an issue of ethics comes up a lot.  As we spend all day on our smart phones, computers and so on, we are asked who has made it possible for us to have these gadgets at a more or less reasonable price.  The answer usually lies somewhere in China, Taiwan, Mexico or India.  The question however, is not usually where do the gadgets come from, but why don’t we care about the people who are making our products.  No one can deny that the people who are making our technology devices are not living in the best conditions, nor working for the best wages.  If they were, then our cell phones and ipads would cost us a lot more then they do.  The question surrounding the issue of price/ affordability of a product vs. the ethics behind the people who make it remains an issue that we have only slightly covered in class.  I think that in general Americans (and most people in other countries) do care about the living/ working conditions of the people who make our gadgets, but only up to a point.  We care, but when our caring hurts our wallets then we start to question whether we should be getting involved.

I think that this attitude has to do with American Exceptionalism.  Many Americans think that they are so great, and in some situations that we are so caring too.  But I really do not think that many people would be willing to pay more for their products so that the people making those products could live better.  That argument relates very much to the idea of buying things that are made in the US.  For a while now, many efforts have been made for people to buy US cars, US clothes and foods grown in the US.  It is not that many people do not want to buy US products, I think if most people had the choice they would buy American things.  But the common argument against buying American things is the costs.  It usually costs more for people to buy things that are made in the US because American workers demand higher wages and better working environments then people in foreign countries would ask for.  So again we return to the issue of ethics and why don’t we care about the people making our things.  As we progress into the digital age, I don’t think that this issue will be resolved.  Even though the internet has made it more possible for Americans to connect with people around the world, I don’t know if that would make it more likely for people to care more about those people.  I would hope that it would, but I really do not know.  And as Apple, Sony, Microsoft and many other companies compete to come up with the newest must have gadget, the problem could only continue.

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Who Is Really the Slave: Us or the Machines

A few classes ago we pondered the idea of a robot consciousness.  Questions of whether a robot consciousness could exist and what would humans do if it did exist were considered.  We wondered if we treat robots/ machines as the modern day slaves.  But as I thought it over more and more, I wondered whether the machines were the slaves, or were we naively and unknowingly the slaves to the machines?

In many ways I can see how humans treat machines like slaves.  But I can also see how our dependence on machines has made us a sort of slave to the technology.  There are few people in America that can honestly say that their life is not reliant on some sort of technology.  Most people cannot even make it a couple of hours without their gadgets, let alone an entire day or week without their much beloved and needed cell phone/tv/ computer/ ipod/ car/ stove and so on.  But as one recognizes that we may be a slave to technology, one must ponder what this means for humans.  Have humans dug themselves into a whole that they cannot get out of?  Will Americans ever be able to survive without technology?  What would such a life look like?  Aaahhhhh…… so many questions, so little time.

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As we investigated the hoochie algorithm in class, it made me realize how algorithms are all around us.  I know that an algorithm is a step by step set of instructions used to solve a problem, but I no idea how they are prevalently used to sell things to the public.  I thought that it was so interesting to see how all our examples in class were all about people/ companies selling us things.  By fitting us into neatly made columns and categories, companies are able to find out what we like and how we think.  It is scary to think that we are all seen as having dollar signs on the top of our foreheads, just waiting for the next sales pitch to made to us.

But hearing everyone’s example of how an algorithm was applied to them made me also realize that algorithms can also work as a form of stereotyping.  I remember when we got the algorithm assignment, I remembered a time when I went dress shopping with my sister at a high end store in Ala Moana and no one in the store would help us.  Upon looking at the other customers who were being helped, it did not take us long before we figured out that we weren’t being helped because we were not dressed appropriately as we were not wearing designer clothes nor had the matching designer bags/ accessories.  And since many dress stores ask their customers what school they go to, to make sure that no one else from their school is getting the same dress from the store, once the sales ladies heard that the other girls went to Punahou, we knew it was all over for us and there was no way we would have been helped in that particular store.  I hated that feeling though, being stereotyped as not being good enough because we weren’t wearing the right clothes or didn’t go to the right schools.  It was just like in Pretty Woman, when no one would help Julia Roberts when she was shopping at the store on Rodeo Drive.  In that particular instance it is clear that the sales associates in that store were using certain markers to target who the more affluent (and therefore the better) customers.  In seeing how algorithms are used to sell things to people,  I wondered if digital algorithms could in some way be stereotyping people and their habits?  I only wondered because I really disliked being stereotyped in person, I would really not like it to happen online, where we are supposed to be free to be whoever we want to.

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The need to be entertained

In class we continually ask ourselves to question our dependence on technology.  But an interesting point was also brought up as well as we questioned why technology is needed.  Other then the fastness and convenience of technology it is apparent that most technology satisfies a need for us to be entertained.  The continual need to have our cell phones around us at all times, the need to be around a computer when we get to work  and the need to turn on the TV when we get home are all examples of how humans need to have some form of pleasurable distraction close at hand in order to get through their class, work, or day.  Although such a conclusion makes humans sound like entertainment junkies, who cannot survive (or sometimes even think) without being captivated by something interesting, one may also conclude how necessary it is for people to have some kind of outlet and distraction from their everyday lives.  For example, after a hard day’s work at the office, who can blame the person who wants to go home and watch TV or play video games all night, especially when one considers that the difficulties from work will only return the next morning.  I think that if people had to constantly face and think about the problems in their lives, most people would go crazy or have a nervous breakdown.  People would be stressed out all the time and be yelling at everyone in their way and would therefore be passing on their problem to everyone else.  In such a way, our computers, TV, video games or cell phones provide a way for people to forget their problems and put them on the side until later.

But even though technology can provide people with a release from their problems, I think that people also need to have a balance in their lives.  I think that sometimes problems arise when people use technology to escape their problems, but when that technology is gone, people often forget to deal with or find a solution to their problem.  So instead of solving the problem, people get distracted (with technology) and forget about the problem all together.  In such a way, technology could just be making people avoid their problems, rather than dealing with them, which does not usually solve anything.  Other problems arise when people need to be entertained all day but cannot concentrate on their work or school because they cannot be without their cell phone or so on.  In such a way, technology becomes a distraction from the problems in a person’s life, while at the same time, technology is also causing other problems in that same person’s life.


Robot Consciousness

In class we mentioned the idea that a “robot consciousness” which is a possibility reality that could come to the forefront in a matter of years.  Based on the way that our technology is progressing, it is certainly believable that such a circumstance could be an issue in our lifetimes.  Faced with this problem, the question on floor remains what do we do when our technologically advanced machines  gain a consciousness and wants things?  The general answer is that us mere humans would not be able to grasp or recognize such a response (uprising) from our technology.  As humans continually dumb down our technology,  I think that it is certainly possible that such an uprising could have or is already happening, and I will be the first to admit that I would be one of the last people to recognize this.  At first I considered the possibility that I could tell the difference between an inanimate thing which has no feeling, and an animate one which most of the times does.  But after we watched the Kara video, it is evident that the line between human feelings and robot “feelings” are becoming more and more blurred.

I think that it is and will be extremely difficult for humans to grasps and be okay with the idea of a machine consciousness.  In no way do we want to feel like we are exploiting our technological gadgets at our expense.  But as humans who bought a machine or invested time in creating a gadget, we do want, and expects at most times, for our machines to do a particular job or achieve a certain purpose (especially if a machine was expensive, we don’t want our money to go to waste).  I’m not sure how many people would be comfortable with (or willing to) giving our machines a rest because it wants a break or has some other feelings.  In such an instance it seems that humans would be empathetic to a machine consciousness up to a certain point.  Or in other words, humans want to care, AS LONG AS our machines still do their jobs.  If humans do care about their machine’s consciousness up to a certain point, I wonder if society as a whole has become the slave owners of America’s past?


Kara, The Female Robot

How Offensive. I thought that the Kara video was so insulting to ALL women.  But what is even more enraging about the video is that subjugated female robots (or enslaved women in general) who are at the will of the domineering man in control,  is such a common theme.  Though the graphics in this video were great, I vehemently did not like the themes in it.  First of all, one of the themes that I got from this video is that women are replaceable, not by another woman or a man, but by a machine.  Some of the ways that I came to this conclusion was because Kara seemed to possess the ideal female characteristics.  For example, not only was Kara docile, but she seemed to be programmed to be okay with doing the household/ domestic chores around the house and to be used for sexual purposes.  Is this the way men view women?  Are such characteristics the only positive things about women?  Are human women so futile, expendable and ineffectual that men feel entitled to substitute females with a replica that comes custom made with ideal attributes?

The other reason I found this video very degrading to women was because it depicted the idea of women’s dependence on men.  For example, Kara’s literal existence is dependent on the male operator. In addition to that is the idea that only when Kara agrees to be compliant, not to complain and not to cause any problems does the operator consider putting her on the shelf.  Furthermore, one must not forget that Kara is a product which implies the idea that women can be bought and sold.

But the main reason that this video is so bothersome, is the fact that, as someone mentioned in class, the subject matter of this video is nothing new.  The theme of a female robot, who comes fully prepared with ideal features, who can by bought and sold and is more or less compliant and dependent on men, is a topic that we have seen before.  I just wait for the day when male robots, who take orders from women and are there to please the every need of a woman, becomes a common theme.