Technology and Spirituality

Jeopardy Answer: Watson. Jeopardy Question: “Who (or what?) just trashed the leading money winners ever in knowledge retrieval?

You may be surprised to have me telling you to pay attention to what just happened on a TV game show, but you better be heads up on this one. Over the years sci-fi movies, books and cartoons have portrayed the possibility of computers who take on human characteristics, and become smarter than their human creators. In each instance the humans eventually win out, often by just a hairs breadth. (For examples see the movie “Eagle Eye”, the animated “Wall-E” or the character “Data” on the Star Trek series). While we feel a bit disturbed by such visions, in the end we tell ourselves not to worry, humans will triumph in the end.

Think again. (See Time Magazines cover story “Singlarity”)

“Watson,” an IBM computer just blew off the humans. You may think, well, no biggie, I remember when Deep Blue crushed that chess master-mind guy (1997, Kasparov). This is just the same thing. Actually, it isn’t.
Deep Blue did one thing: played chess. The computer was designed to compute 200 million positions per second. It was essentially the fastest and most complex computer to ever face a chess champion. Well, fast forward to today. Let me quote Ken Jennings, the human runner-up against Watson: “Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of ‘thinking’ machines. Quiz show contestant may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.” Humans are working frantically to create computers that can in fact, create. Computers creating computers. Computers creating art, music, and well, just about anything.

Whether or not computers become our overlords, in the sense that they will be superior to us in a “Darwinian” sense, they certainly have invaded our lives and changed the way we live. That impact often happens in such a way that we sometimes don’t recognize how it occurs. If you are concerned about this, where should you start? Let me suggest that you become aware of a concept called “continuous partial attention.” Developed by Linda Stone, it refers to the impact of continuously available technology. Check it out, and stay tuned for a post on practical suggestions for your personal life and family.

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