Technofossils Are the Artifacts of Our Existence. What do they say?

It’s not hard to imagine the Earth before humans, but we struggle to imagine what the Earth looks like after humans. Eventually, our time here will come to an end, whether we leave Earth for interplanetary travel or drown ourselves in waste. Regardless, future civilizations will dig up our technofossils – the remains of society’s creation on this Earth – learning about the Technosphere we created.

Technofossils – Trash or Treasure?

Humans are a creating species. We create ideas which turn into things. And sometimes those things turn into huge hits among the rest of us. Try and imagine how many ballpoint pens have been created since their beginning in the late 1800s. How about disposable diapers?

Most of the things we’ve created in one way or another will end up in a landfill. However, due to stricter safety guidelines, landfills have essentially become tombs that lengthen the time it takes for things to decompose. As a result, most of our stuff will be solidified in a new geological layer before they have time to decompose. This new geological layer will contain our technofossils.

In other words, your trash may become the treasure which future archaeologists dig up to better understand us. Talk about a bizarre concept.

What’s astonishing, though, is the variety of technofossils. Some researchers believe we’ve created more unique types of technofossils than there are total biological species through Earth’s history!

That means that alien archaeologists one million years from now probably will be so distracted by how many interesting technofossils we’ve created, they won’t even reach deep enough to hit those dinosaur fossils.

Technofossils date from the clay pots created in ancient Egypt all the way to the 4th Generation iPhones that litter our landfills. Technofossils are more than things, though. They are the story of us.

Our Rich Technosphere

Technofossils is derived from the term Technosphere. Alongside the systems that have long inhabited our planet – the hydrosphere (water), atmosphere (air), lithosphere (earth), biosphere (organic life, like plants and animals) – the Technosphere is a system entirely created by humans.

Peter Haff defines the Technosphere as “our complex social structures together with the physical infrastructure and technological artifacts supporting energy, information and material flows…as diverse as power stations, transmission lines, roads and buildings, farms, plastics, tools, airplanes, ballpoint pens, and transistors.”

But, unlike the other spheres, the Technosphere is an extremely inefficient system. Whereas the biosphere is known to waste little to nothing – when a tree falls, it feeds other organisms and fertilizes the ground for another plant. The Technosphere wastes almost everything.

For this reason, the Technosphere is believed to be parasitic. Much like a tapeworm devours everything from the inside out, the Technosphere’s horrible inefficiency depletes resources that the other systems need to work, thus devouring the Earth.

But, that isn’t to say that the Technosphere can’t improve. The sharing economy is a great example of a healthy evolution since it encourages less “stuff” and less waste.

Of course, a perfect Technospheric system means eliminating ALL waste, leaving no technofossils behind. Which is a bummer for future archaeologists. But, it’s just trash anyways. They don’t really need to look through it.

In reality, the Technosphere can’t work symbiotically with other systems without your help.

Reduce and Reuse

There are enough people out there preaching the need to increase our recycling efforts. But, this only takes up one part of the creed to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

At the beginning of the movie Wall-E, we are given a great message (aside from an apocalyptic message of the effects of mass consumption). While Wall-E is compressing trash, he rummages through things and fills his home with perfectly usable items we considered trash.

Ryan told me he recently avoided buying a big plastic note card organizer by creating his own: “I found an old shoebox, a hot glue gun, and some cardboard and went to town. Not to mention, the organizer I created has so much more character than the one I would’ve bought on Amazon.”

The message is to be curious about how you can reuse items instead of instantly throwing them out. You’d be surprised at the variety of uses most things have. Reusing is also a form of reducing.

I’ve practiced minimalism for about 7 years. Contrary to popular belief, minimalism isn’t all about seeing how few items you can get by with. Minimalism is about reducing all areas of excess. Eliminating decision overload to focus on only the decisions that matter. Think of it as decluttering your entire lifestyle.

Small changes in your own lifestyle will resonate throughout our economic scales. We all play a large part in making the Technosphere a sustainable and mutualistic relationship with Nature. Let’s take a little more responsibility.

Thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories! I hope you enjoyed learning a fancy new word for your trash. And as always, shoot me an email with your thoughts on the topic.

Our Facial Future: Where Your Face Holds All Your Secrets

We’d all like to think we know what a “lying face” looks like. Realistically, most of us can’t remember a face, let alone understand all the secrets a face hides. Surprisingly, our faces hold way more information than you’d ever imagine, like the amount of pain you’re in, your IQ, and possibly even your cultural beliefs. Now, facial recognition technology is learning how to discover this information.

Feel the Pain

About eight months ago I came down with a pretty bad ear infection. For three weeks I came and went to the doctor, trying different medications and treatments.

But, there was a big problem. The only measurement of the drugs’ efficacy was my subjective response to the question, “How much pain are you in?” And this is the case for so many doctor’s visits.

We all know that subjective feelings are unreliable. Rating your pain on a scale of 1-10 gives us little baseline at all to go off of.

Which is why researchers at MIT want to get rid of subjective feelings in treatment by using a facial recognition algorithm that can detect your pain levels by studying your face.

Trained on thousands of videos of people wincing in pain, the algorithm creates a baseline for each patient based on common pain indicators – generally, movements around the nose and mouth are telltale signs.

So far, the algorithm is 85% successful at weeding out the fakers. Meaning that people trying to fake pain to get prescription painkillers will soon be out of business.

And within the next ten years, I predict most hospitals will use this technology to better treat people across all conditions. Putting on a brave face so you can just get the heck out of that horrid hospital won’t be an option once this goes mainstream.

Turns out there’s a lot more to be learned from our faces.

Endless Possibility in Facial Recognition

Skilled portrait artists seem to know how to paint wear and tear in people’s faces. The wrinkles tell many stories. And now, Michal Kosinski, a researcher at Stanford University, claims that in a few years facial recognition algorithms will determine someone’s entire personal history through their facial features.

Initially, Kosinski went viral when he published research stating that facial recognition algorithms could determine whether someone is gay or straight. While the statement ruffled many feathers, the facts show he isn’t too far off. His research correctly distinguished gay from straight 81% of the time in men and 74% of the time in women.

Then, he upped the ante, claiming that the future of facial recognition research is overflowing with possibilities. From health quality to personality traits, IQ to likelihood toward negative behaviors.

Kosinski has reason to believe the government may already employ these technologies. If it’s true, then the future could be worrisome if the technology isn’t further democratized. For that reason, he makes these bold predictions to push public research further.

It’s common knowledge that the government invades a bit of our privacy, hopefully for good purposes. But, on the facial recognition side, I’m not so sure.

Regardless, if there’s anybody in the world that can act on all of these facial possibilities…

Facebook: The Mecca of Faces

With a cache of 2 billion unique users and multiple photos for each person, Facebook is ground zero for facial recognition technology.

It was the first widely used commercial application of facial recognition when it could identify friends in your photos before you could.

Sexual orientation, IQ, criminal tendency. Does Facebook analyze these things? I don’t know. But, they may be analyzing political views.

Kosinski claims that political views can also be ascertained from a single photo. Which is something Facebook would be really interested in, considering Mark Zuckerberg is showing all the signs of running for President.

The 2016 U.S. Election was tarnished due to the prominence of fake news on Facebook. But, imagine if Zuckerberg knew which way you were leaning based on your photos. Facebook, theoretically could deliver different campaigns to different people – playing to the issues that they support.

Facebook could find common ground between potential voters and Zuckerberg’s campaign with ease, should this technology become a reality.

Once again, this is all theoretical…but could you imagine how hard it’d be to compete with that campaign?!

A lot of technological advancement on the horizon (facial recognition included) is disturbingly invasive. Unfortunately, it’s the world we may have to live in. And you’ll have to face those facts.

Face the Facts

We spend a lot of time in denial. Very few of us actually know who we are. We haven’t faced the facts because sometimes the facts are too hard to bear.

For instance, I lived in the denial of my listening abilities for a long time. Having spent so much time as a DJ, I learned how to listen to two or more sounds at once while still maintaining another stream of consciousness.

This multi-task listening bled into all areas of my life. I believed that I was a great listener. But, when I’d gotten into more serious conversations my empathy didn’t show.

This showed me that emotions can’t multi-task and I had to face the facts that I was a bad listener in many scenarios.

As the philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard said, “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

Until you understand yourself, you cannot change yourself. To know yourself is easier said than done. We don’t find ourselves in the hectic places of civilization. We find ourselves in the lonely places of contemplation.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this week’s Quick Theories! And shoot me an email with your thoughts on facial recognition technology.

Doctors are Turning to Smartphones for Answers, with Good Reason

The iPhone (and the smartphone in general) is on track to becoming the most versatile tool at your doctor’s disposal. The iPhone Doctor is a movement that brings diagnosis and treatment apps to smartphones, making the job of a Digital Doctor much more seamless.

Digital Doctor in a Doc’s Pocket

It’s an exciting time to be a technology innovator in healthcare. Many ambitious companies in digital health, telehealth, and telemedicine are enabling care providers with better technology leading to better outcomes.

For instance, the Human Diagnosis Project has created a platform that crowdsources medical diagnoses. So, a patient in rural Mississippi can get the guidance of not only their primary care physician but from thousands of physicians across the globe. Sounds like a lot of advice, but the platform uses algorithms to sift the information and rank its relevance. All of which can be accessed by a doctor on, you guessed it…their smartphone.

Face2Gene redefines the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. The app analyzes the patterns and features on someone’s face to detect the probability they have a disorder such as Down’s Syndrome. With over 2,000 disorders logged into the facial recognition app, diagnosing patients outside of the hospital setting is as easy as reaching in a doc’s pocket.

A similar facial recognition algorithm is learning to assess the pain on patient’s faces, allowing for more accurate treatment.

Working in digital health innovation, I’m often confronted by the slow technology adoption in healthcare. But, many of these healthcare technology solutions do all the heavy lifting, making it easier for hospitals to adopt the technology.

In fact, so much heavy lifting is done, that some of these Digital Doctor tools are even accessible to the public.

The iPhone Doctor

Our cell phones are undoubtedly a jack-of-all-trades – streaming music, paying bills, connecting with friends. While these are all useful things, the next wave of iPhone innovation has more heart.

Specifically, in electrocardiograms (EKG) which are the simple, painless tests of the heart’s electrical data.

With portable, pocket-sized Kardia sensors, patients can take a medical-grade EKG test on their phone in just 30-seconds. Patients who feel the warning signs of a stroke can pull out the finger sensors, gather and analyze data, and then send the results to their doctor for further advice.

Finding early irregularities in heart function is the difference between taking precautionary steps or reacting to heart failure. By eliminating the time of traveling to a doctor’s office and waiting for an EKG test, Kardia becomes the iPhone Doctor in any patient’s pocket.

And it’s not the only technology catching problems early.

By the Whites of Their Eyes

Pancreatic cancer, the condition that took Steve Jobs’s and Patrick Swayze’s life has a startlingly low survival rate because the symptoms are rarely detected before the cancer has spread. As a result, most diagnoses are accompanied by a remaining lifespan in “months”, not years.

Which is why the BiliScreen app is so groundbreaking. Simply using a smartphone camera, the app can detect trace amounts of bilirubin in the whites of the eyes. Bilirubin is a chemical that increases in the body when pancreatic cancer develops, eventually turning the whites of the eyes yellow. Generally, this yellowing isn’t noticeable until the cancer is far along.

I know this is an app that really hits home for my friend Ryan:

“I can remember sitting at a team banquet when my friend’s dad walked in. The whole room went silent. His hair was gone and he looked emaciated. Only months ago at the football games, he looked fine. That night many of us found out he had stage four pancreatic cancer. He died just six months later.

“The opposite held true for my psychology professor. A fluke visit to the doctor for an unrelated test helped him catch pancreatic cancer at a very early stage. Three years later, he’s still chugging along with many more sunrises ahead of him.”

This is the reality of pancreatic cancer. Two polar opposite based on early detection.

The researchers at the University of Washington who developed this technology are showing early clinical successes, and believe the eyes are the gateway to diagnosing other health problems.

Every day, I hear of more and more healthcare advances that utilize our favorite device, the smartphone – making adoption all the more easier for us.

Making Change Easy

To get people to agree with your thoughts or buy your product, most people believe the trick is in the sales strategy. The hard sell. The soft sell. The straight line technique. There are a plethora of sales strategies that all focus on how to sell.

But, the real reason people don’t buy, listen, or agree is the fear of change.

To get people to change their mind, you must make change seem easier than staying with their current option.

Elon Musk is phenomenal at doing this when presenting his outlandish ideas. He constantly dumbs down the idea of building underground travel infrastructure, as nothing more than digging holes. How hard can it be?

So, the next idea you want to spread or product you aim to sell, start thinking about how you can make the change seem easier than not changing. (Hint: it’s something I try to do weekly with these Quick Theories).

As always, thanks for tuning into this week’s Quick Theories. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the iPhone Doctor.

Digital Tattoos Will Replace Your Fitness Wearable and TV Remote

The largest organ of our body, our skin, might become the newest technology interface. Digital tattoos fused with circuitry can be applied to the skin to replace your TV remote and other devices. With biosensors and medical tattoos, you can say goodbye to wearables. Tattoos are transforming from modes of self-expression to practical investments in our bodies.

Digital Tattoos – The New Interface

The same motion it takes to rub lotion on your arm could have you controlling all of your devices. Yes, it sounds bizarre, but digital tattoos can act as light switches, touch pads, and much more.

DuoSkin is a project by MIT researchers that turns our skin into the next interface for technology. Essentially, they design a circuit using graphics software, stamp out the tattoo in gold leaf (which is conductive to electricity), and then apply other materials and components that make the tattoo interactive. And it actually works!

These early digital tattoos may change color based on your body temperature, allow you to control the volume on your phone by swiping different directions or replace the touchpad on your laptop.

If these seem like silly, useless applications then you aren’t alone. Personally, I’m fascinated with a different application: data communication.

By merging gold leaf with an NFC (near-field communication) chip, data stored within the tattoo can be translated to other devices. Similar to how ApplePay or SamsungPay work. Simply waving your arm over a chip reader could allow you to pay for your movie ticket or groceries. And unlike an Apple Watch, the stylishly designed digital tattoo is always on your arm.

They aren’t exactly a sleek, fool-proof design considering they are applied to the skin with a wet rag – similar to the temporary tattoos of our childhood. But the concept of our bodies becoming an interface takes a dive into transhuman advancements.

For people who are a bit more serious about the possibilities of digital tattoos, there’s a class of permanent ones with far more capabilities.

Biosensors Replace All Wearables

We can all agree that wearable fitness trackers haven’t lived up to their promise. They are clunky, unfashionable, and often times inaccurate – which is why the medical tattoos that do everything wearables do, and better, are so interesting.

Researchers at the University of Texas – Austin have created a tattoo that collects heart, muscle, and brain activity (electrocardiography, electromyography, and electroencephalography, respectively). In other words, what usually takes massive medical machinery to test can be done with these medical tattoos.

In essence, they are implantable biosensors that are practically transparent. So, they can be implanted anywhere on the body without disrupting your image. (Finally, I can get that Mike Tyson face tattoo I’ve always wanted!)

Most importantly these biosensors collect data closer to the source. Working in digital health, I’m constantly reminded by healthcare technologists that the wristwatch wearable is one of the worst spots on the body to collect health information, given its far proximity from the heart and main muscle groups (your arms swing when you walk, greatly altering step data).

Medical tattoos on your foot, on your chest above your heart, and on your temples would collect heart, muscle, and brain data with much more accuracy and insight.

This would be revolutionary to solving many health issues before they amounted to something serious. But, I see the real impact of these medical tattoos in sports science.

Medical Tattoos in Sports

Since the dawn of civilization we’ve gathered in crowds to watch athletes showcase their physical prowess, and every year we want to see new levels of performance. Getting more out of athletes means attaining a better understanding of the human body during performance.

Due to their inconspicuous, non-disruptive nature, medical tattoos could provide real-time, in-game performance information that would bring sports science to new heights.

For instance, concussions are the worst opponent facing every NFL player. Medical tattoos placed near the temples could track brain activity of players during a game, making sure to take players out that show early signs of a concussion before they do serious damage to their brains.

In the NBA, courtside trainers could monitor the energy exertion on every muscle of their players. Thus, advising coaches when to take a player out to stretch a muscle that’s on the verge of injury.

And let’s not forget about the grassroots level. It seems as though every year a youth football player dies during the summer heat due to overworking their bodies. DermalAbyss has created a tattoo that senses skin temperature and skin hydration. This would help better track a player’s health during practice and play – giving them breaks when their bodies need it.

Although most of us give up on our competitive athletic aspirations by the time we’re 20, this doesn’t mean we can’t all benefit from a better understanding of our bodies’ capabilities.

And it’s not always about getting better.

Consistency is Key

Most of our goals are centered around improvement. We want to make more money, get bigger muscles, and slimmer stomachs. It’s an immediacy mindset.

Marketers make oodles of money selling the next big wave in workouts and guaranteed to get rich schemes. This immediacy mindset almost always fails us because the workouts or the diets just aren’t realistic.

Don’t do 100 push-ups a day, get tired and quit after two days. Do 25 push ups a day for a whole month, something manageable, and you’ll find yourself naturally improving. Most importantly, you’ll have formed a habit around consistency.

At the time of his assassination, Gandhi had the organ health of someone half his age because he fasted for 36 hours once a week his entire life. This consistent act of clearing his system kept his body running at peak performance.

The trick to improving at anything doesn’t involve tricks at all. It’s just consistency. And the best way to make a habit consistent is to make it enjoyable.

Look back at the past 5 goals you achieved or failed. I’ll bet the difference was consistency. Shoot me an email with your thoughts on developing consistent habits…and let me know if you’d ever get a digital tattoo. Thanks for browsing this week’s Quick Theories!

Can We Have Therapeutic Conversations with Computers?

There are a plethora of problems we encounter that require audible communication. And when there isn’t someone around we trust to confide in, digital therapy and the computer therapist may soon be there to help.

The Computer Therapist

My most therapeutic conversations have been with my mom and my friend Mayo. In this, I realize how lucky I am to have those types of relationships where I can discuss any and all problems. Everyone isn’t this blessed.

Which is why turning our devices into a computer therapist doesn’t seem too far off.

Essentially, a computer therapist is software that analyzes a person’s speech or written text and uses Natural Language Processing to communicate with the person. The computer therapist is not only a sounding board but a voice of reason.

One computer therapist is Replika, which is a one-of-a-kind chatbot that excels at listening. It knows how to spark conversation and more importantly get people to open up – just like a therapist.

There’s a negative stigma surrounding therapy that it’s only for the people with really serious mental issues. But, that’s just not the case.

Instead, there’s a Golden Moment when therapy becomes therapeutic. When conversation allows us to reveal our insecurities and come to terms with them – realizing our faults and working toward lessening them. That’s when therapy is for everyone.

Replika is showing early signs of this Golden Moment. And if the computer therapist is the wave of the future, where we prefer hearing the words of wisdom from through our phones, then Replika has a distinct leg up on this service.

But, we must also realize that Replika operates completely via text message. Which means there’s a high level of polish involved. We think before we text because we have time to. It’s not real-time.

So, does this blur the lines between intention and reality? Can digital therapy be effective if it’s conducted through texts?

Siri, The Voice of Reason?

Speak your mind – it’s the time-tested way of telling others “what’s going on up there”. And according to Apple’s latest job posting for a Software Engineer meets Psychologist, Siri is perfect for digital therapy.

Apple says, “People have serious conversations with Siri…including when they’re having a stressful day or have something serious on their mind. They turn to Siri in emergencies or when they want guidance on living a healthier life.”

For Siri to give good advice, though, it needs to better understand context.

Context is our ability to use external cues to better interpret others. For example, if I were drinking a coffee in a mug in the breakroom, and asked, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” You’d realize I was being funny – asking if I could pour you a cup from the machine.

Siri would tell you where the closest Starbucks was.

Imagine this contextual issue in a therapy session where the topic was human existence – a conversation that thrives on context.

I’ve had a few existential conversations with my friend Ryan. We usually ease our fears by discussing the impact we’d like to have on the world. We talk about our duty while we’re alive to do everything in our power to impact our mission.

But, in discussing existential fears with my friend Z, the context changes. Her “north star” is different. We discuss finding beauty in the calmness of everyday life. Noticing small wins on a daily basis.

For Siri to transform from the digital assistant in millions of pockets to the computer therapist with a voice of reason, it needs to develop better contextual conversation to learn about an individual’s needs.

For now, it may be best to leave our delicate human psyche to the experts.

Tools for Digital Therapy

Instead of thinking about replacing therapists, perhaps it’s better to enable them to do their job even better with technology.

For instance, creating virtual spaces to meet with patients through video applications and even Virtual Reality would enable people who may be limited by distance to visit their counselor more easily.

On a deeper level, researchers are experimenting with Augmented Reality Exposure Therapy to help people cope with their fears. Essentially, their AR application places someone in a room with their fear. It’s safer than traditional immersion therapies where the fear is actually present (i.e. a snake is placed on your lap) since the AR application is just a virtual representation.

Another example of digital therapy comes from Amy Green who created a video game to help people cope with grief, called The Dragon, Cancer. It’s based on her family’s experience when their son, Joel, was given news of terminal cancer. Players are transformed into a witness of Joel’s life, exploring an emotional landscape, clicking to discover more of what the family felt and experienced.

It’s a hard game to play since it’s a game that you can’t win. But, it’s so much more. As Amy says, “People have to prepare themselves to invest emotionally in a story that they know will break their hearts. But when our hearts break, they heal a little differently.”

There will always be an abundance of issues we face individually that can be assuaged with the help of a therapist, counselor, or an open listener. Nonetheless, as I’ve talked about in the past, one of the main areas of future job growth is in the interpersonal care spaces.

Regardless of hiring a professional or talking to a friend, everyone has the ability to practice therapy daily.

Therapeutic Rituals

When things get crappy, we have to find ways to calm ourselves. For many of us, our therapeutic ritual lies in technology: listening to music, calling up a friend, or turning on the TV. And while these are great distractions, they aren’t dependable under all circumstances.

I urge everyone to develop a therapeutic ritual they can do anytime, anywhere.

Maybe you rub your thumb and index finger ever so slightly so that you can feel the grooves of your fingerprint. Perhaps bring a small pebble with you everywhere and caress its smoothness. How about just going for a walk and looking around?

Personally, I flip my challenge coin to myself whenever I’m stressed, sad, bored, or even excited. The action is therapeutic, helping to centers my emotions.

The Hulk merely needed to hear the phrase “Sun’s getting real low” accompanied by some hand gestures to calm himself and return to being Bruce Banner. If the Hulk can do it, so can you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on digital therapy and maybe some of your therapeutic rituals. Thanks for tuning into this week’s Quick Theories!

The Misleading Nature of Artificial Intelligence, And Why We Believe It

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a misleading term. It sounds like it parallels human intelligence, except faster, all-knowing, and non-forgetting. But, this just isn’t what it means when people attach the term to their innovation.

It’s important we set the record straight on what Artificial Intelligence is before we continue labeling every computer innovation as Artificial Intelligence.

Ladies and Gents…Artificial Intelligence

Let’s start with what Artificial Intelligence isn’t. It’s not some all-knowing system. It’s not an evil initiative that will take your job. In fact, Artificial Intelligence isn’t an “it” at all. Theoretically, Artificial Intelligence doesn’t exist.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the general label for a field of study. Specifically, the study of whatever might answer the question “What is required for a machine to exhibit intelligence?”

In using this blanket term to describe everything from the cancer-detecting algorithms of IBM to the “you should watch this next” software of Netflix, we begin to believe that there is some overarching system somewhere that is learning how to do all of these things.

When in reality, each “Artificial Intelligence” innovation we hear about is a separate piece of software learning how to automate a very specific task. They aren’t all working together to achieve world domination.

For instance, many great businesspeople accredit their strategy and forethinking to playing Chess. However, the “AI” that beat undefeated world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, would have a very hard time translating their knowledge of strategy to run a successful business. Autonomous companies have a long way to go.

In reality, “AI” is like a childhood nickname you can’t get rid of. Hardly does that nickname accurately describe who you are as a person.

Although terms such as “software” or “automation” are more fitting for most AI breakthroughs. I’ll probably, and you’ll probably, continue using the term Artificial Intelligence for the time being. It’s a buzzword.

Of course, not all “AI” is created equal. While most are advancements to improve daily tasks, the “AI” that has Elon Musk scared and Mark Zuckerberg hopeful is something completely different.

Independent Thinkers

Both of these visionaries are referring to a time when software begins to exhibit human-like cognitive abilities. Meaning, not only can it recognize the patterns that underlie our economic markets, but it can then create strategies on how to influence the free market. Not only will it detect early warning signs of pancreatic cancer, but it can also formulate hypotheses on how to resolve the fact that most people don’t catch pancreatic cancer until it’s too late.

To achieve this level of independent thinking in machines, commonly called The Singularity, researchers create these neural networks, which structurally mimic the neural connections of the human brain.

Realistically, this monstrous feat has more to do with understanding our own consciousness and intelligence, than it does with the actual machines.

For this reason, the UK launched a $1.3 billion initiative to digitally map the human brain rightfully named the Human Brain Project. Here in the US, a similar initiative was launched with an even less-creative name, BRAIN – Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies.

Experiments such as the Cognitron Intelligence Test, which is free and fun to take, test how different forms of intelligence (i.e. spatial intelligence, facial intelligence, etc…) relate to one another in each of us.

These initiatives and many more aim to understand how our brains analyze the world, predict outcomes, and create things. Maybe someday replicating it in a machine.

On this road, however, there is a major challenge. Ingrained in our own intelligence is bias.

A New Hope for Bias?

Almost nothing we do is completely free from bias. The moment you read this article’s title, every emotion you have about AI came to the top of mind. Every sensory input, from what we see to what we hear, has a personal connotation that steers our actions.

Often times, the data these AI algorithms learn from are riddled with our social biases.

Facial recognition apps which diagnose disorders with just a picture are more effective for white patients. The risk-assessment algorithms courts use to assist in sentencing have been found to support racism. And the image recognition algorithms at Facebook and Google reinforce sexist gender stereotypes?

If these problems aren’t fixed, many of the same biases and racisms that have existed for the past 300 years will continue to exist for the next 300.

And if you ask me, that’s not progress.

Fortunately, people realize this is a big problem and moves are being made. For instance, AI Now is an initiative to better understand the impacts of AI, formulating ideas on how to help design socially-conscious automation.

I suppose recognizing our own biases is the first step toward diminishing them.

Clean Slate Mindset

I’ve always tried to approach every interaction and every task with a clean slate. A tabula rasa as John Locke would say. Because I find that I can learn a lot more when I’m not trying to predict what I will learn.

Within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone new, we’ve already determined if they are worthwhile to continue conversing with. Instantly, our minds begin thinking how to get out of the situation or what to say next. But, meeting new people shouldn’t be treated like speed dating.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man I meet is in some way my superior, and in that, I can learn of him.”

Treat every new person you meet as if they have something unique to teach you. And you’ll find your social and cultural biases melt away.

I appreciate you taking the time to learn what I have to teach you in this week’s Quick Theories. Let me know if your concept of AI has changed or what some of your favorite applications of AI are.

Would You Upgrade Your Average Senses to Extraordinary Levels?

Some people are born with “the eye”, “the taste”, or “the ear”. Their bodies are more accustomed to a certain sense. It’s what made Andy Warhol a famed artist, Gordon Ramsey a premier chef, and Elton John a legendary singer-pianist. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have the option to upgrade our senses. We just have to do it the old-fashioned way…with transhuman technology.

Transhuman Technology

If you aren’t familiar, transhuman technology is new advancements that can be used to liberate the human body from its natural limitations. Not cars or phones, which make us “quicker” and “smarter”. Rather, transhuman technology is incorporated or combined with the body, as if they are one.

This is an odd concept for most people, I included. For instance, I was frightened when I saw that a company here in Wisconsin was implanting microchips in employees’ hands so they could wave a hand to enter passcodes, buy meals, etc… This is on the small scale, though.

The grand vision for most transhumanists is to develop these technologies with hopes of someday creating an immortal existence. Elon Musk is adamant on his Neuralink brain-computer interface which will merge our brains with Artificial Intelligence.

While Elon says we are just a few years away from a fully-functioning Neuralink implant, we are much farther away from culturally accepting transhuman technology.

It’s one thing to enhance our bodies through Lasik eye surgery or plastic surgery. But to literally merge our bodies with technology is not easy to cope with. Taking control of our own evolution is a mentally strenuous topic.

Nonetheless, there are many sensory-enhancing technologies out there. By no means am I saying this is the future we need. However, it’s still cool to imagine what it’d be like to upgrade our senses to the sight of an eagle, the smell of a dog, or the hearing of a bat.

Eagle Eyes: Bionic Lenses

Sight is by far the most used human sense. Most of our decisions are based on what we see. In being the most used sense, it’s also extremely likely to fail us on a regular basis.

Can’t see the name of the street sign until it’s too late and you pass your turn. Stare at something too long and your tired eyes will give you a headache.

Not to mention, everyone’s eyes get worse as they age. This is because the flexibility of our eye lens deteriorates over time. Which is why some researchers believe the answer to this problem isn’t a stronger prescription. But bionic lenses.

Bionic lenses work just like our current eye lenses – changing their curvature for different focus ranges. However, they differ in that they may be able to adapt to even wider ranges, allowing us to see as much as three times better than 20/20. In other words, with bionic lenses, an object at 60 feet would have the same detail you currently see in an object at 20 feet.

More importantly, bionic lenses take 1/100th of the energy to focus. Meaning, you could stare at something for much longer without getting the eye-strain…meaning longer Netflix binge sessions.

You’d think this is a tough procedure, but it actually isn’t. Bionic lenses can be implanted via one of the most common and successful procedures in medicine – cataract surgery.

The only downside to this transhuman technology may be the $3,200 price tag per bionic lens.

Regardless, with 65% of people having less than 20/20 vision, this could be the most popular transhuman technology in the coming decades.

Nose Job: Electronic Nose

Dogs are among the best sniffers on Earth, even though recent research suggests we might be just as good if we practiced.

Either way, there’s a nose that beats ALL mammals: the electronic nose. The electronic nose differentiates itself from other noses because it can detect scents down to the chemical compound level.

For instance, there’s an electronic nose that can detect lung cancer in individuals based on the presence of volatile organic compounds in their breath. The PERES electronic nose can determine the quality of pork, beef, chicken, and fish – detecting foodborne illnesses with more precision than smelling if it is spoiled.

NASA is especially interested in the electronic nose on spacecrafts. There are upwards of fifty chemicals which circulate throughout a spacecraft to keep it hospitable for humans. However, if those chemicals begin to accumulate, they could lead to a dangerous situation. Having an electronic nose onboard means catching problems before they become catastrophes.

While the electronic nose as an external instrument is cool, I’m fascinated by the possibility to link it to our own olfactory glands.

Our sense of smell is all mental, in that we don’t recognize the forty chemicals that make up the smell of a strawberry, we just associate them all together and recognize the smell of a strawberry.

But, what if we could detect individual compounds in some way?

Imagine smelling MRSA bacteria on a water fountain as you were about to bend over for a drink. Or sensing that your favorite sushi place was mixing the raw chicken with the tuna.

Although I don’t know how scientists would link the two. I’m sure it’s on someone’s research agenda.

What’s the point?

Transhuman technology gives us the possibility of transforming our own senses into that of our favorite mammals or superheroes. But, the question persists: Will we unanimously want to upgrade our senses?

When I asked my friend Ryan, who has very far-sighted vision, he said, “Honestly, I probably wouldn’t get the bionic lenses. My farsighted vision is unique to me. It’s part of my identity. Yes, it’s a major flaw that I wake up and literally can’t read the text messages on my phone. But, when I wear my glasses I also get a lot of laughs…you know. Because of my bug eyes.”

After hearing this, it made me realize Ryan probably is one among many. Yes, productivity-centered folks will jump on this transhuman technology. But, for most of us, we get along just fine without perfect senses.

Bionic lenses may uncover a whole new visual world. The electronic nose may help us detect harmful things in the environment. And electronic taste simulators may help us overcome the taste of vegetables.

But, what good is having more acute senses if we already do a poor job paying attention to the senses we have?

Get a Sense of Our Senses

Our brains have wired themselves to block out a lot of sensory input: background noise, the smell of outside, peripherals, etc… Obviously, this is a great evolution. Without a selective sensory brain, we’d never get anything done.

However, most of us have a sensory deficiency and need to learn how to reconnect with our senses. Because this is where true beauty, daily beauty, is hidden.

Next time you are just walking around, take out your headphones and just listen. Try and see how many noises you can point out. You’ll be shocked at the number of noises you’ve been missing – some of them more beautiful than others. Notice the trees’ leaves soaking up the sun rays or the grass catching the wind.

Tomorrow when you are drinking your morning cup of coffee or juice, don’t let your brain wander to what’s on the agenda for the day. Fully commit to the smell and taste of your beverage. Feel it travel from the tip of your tongue down into your stomach.

Tune into your senses for entertainment every now and again. It’s quite pleasing.

And after you notice a new sensory detail you’ve blocked out for so long, tell it to someone else or shoot me an email. Share your senses. Thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories…I hope it smelled good 🙂

Interactive Films You (The Viewer) Control are in Production

Video storytelling is getting repetitive. Many of the movies today are clearly spinoffs of the movies from our youth. Which is why the future of cinema may hold a new form of interactive video experience where viewers have the control to switch between different perspectives, thus altering the narrative.

Will this new form of video storytelling become commonplace?

Time for a New Video Experience

Popular cinema is getting stale. Seven out of the top ten grossing movies of 2017 were either remakes or sequel/prequels. In other words, seventy percent of the popular movies took a minimal risk!

Looking at Netflix, who are paving the path for movie production, you realize how heavily they rely on data to augment their creativity. I’ve talked before about creators relying on data to determine their decisions, which usually results in sacrificing those risky moments of intuition that create legendary creative outputs.

Take a look at Netflix’s latest star content series, Defenders, which is a character mash-up. Meaning, it took four characters from different series, different storylines, and dropped them onto the same screen. It’s a technique that other superhero, crime-fighting series do (I’m talking to you, Avengers) to maximize the lifetime value of a character.

Netflix took this sort of risk-averse, data-dependent creativity to the next level, using user data to help determine which of their crime-fighting characters would be best to mashup together – relying on their marketing matrix to determine the direction of the series.

I’m sure it’ll be a great show that brings in a lot of viewers and even more dollars. But, ground-breaking movies don’t come from data-driven decisions. This won’t produce new movies on par with Taxi Driver, The Usual Suspects, or The Shawshank Redemption. Video storytelling simply needs an update.

Understanding Different Perspectives

Watching a football game or Game of Thrones with my friends usually means prescribing to a multi-screen experience. When we get bored of what’s on TV, we open up our phones and laptops.

But, what if we could solve this boredom by changing the mood of a show, without changing the channel?

I’m referring to the ability to switch between characters mid-scene. Imagine watching The Godfather, and switching between different perspectives. When Don Corleone is cooped up in the hospital bed, we could switch to the perspective of the Barzini family, plotting their scheme to kill Sonny.

This type of perspective switching would help eradicate boredom and put the power of the story in the viewer’s hands.

For Casey Stein, this form of video storytelling seemed obvious when he noticed his idle keyboard, thinking: why can’t I use these keys just like a game controller to view different perspectives.

He’s now creating a 7-minute murder-thriller to test this interactive video experience. The plot opens with a fight between a man and his cousin (who ends up dead). From there, viewers can switch between three crucial characters: the person trying to arrest the man, the person trying to murder him, and the person trying to save him. They’re all trying to figure out what really happened to the cousin, allowing the audience to play detective in all three different perspectives.

But, there’s something even bigger involved in this interactive video experience.

Getting the Full Picture

Our realities are far from the truth. Every interaction and experience we have goes through our own filter of prior experience, bias, and delusion. In other words, no two people experience the same experience. While I may have thought my morning meeting went phenomenally; my boss may think the exact opposite.

That’s life. Things get altered and lost in communication. So, how come when watching TV or movies, everyone watches the same show? Why can’t it be more like life?

With this type of cinema, nobody would experience the same episode of Game of Thrones. It’s not necessarily a choose-your-own-adventure since the information is stagnant and the overarching story doesn’t change. However, each person would have a different exposure to the story depending on how they navigated the different perspectives.

Most conversations I have about movies or shows start and end with someone saying they either liked or disliked it. Rarely do we passionately argue main plot points.

However, this new type of interactive video experience would boost conversation, since we’d all have watched different perspectives…just like real-life.

I might follow the revenge-seeking murderer because I understand his anger following the death of a loved one. My friend might follow the cop because she believes deeply in justice. Regardless, we’d all find ways to relate to different characters, spurring us to want to explain that person’s perspective.

Undoubtedly, this is a risky form of video storytelling that may take time to adopt.

Who’ll Adopt this Video Storytelling

If this type of interactive video experience were to gain popularity, it would have to take place at the independent filmmaker level for quite some time.

Because studios would have to shoot double, triple, quadruple the amount of footage (depending on how many characters perspectives are included), the “dollars just wouldn’t make cents” for large-scale production houses that run on tight budgeting structures.

Could you imagine Quentin Tarantino, who’s famous for ensemble casts (The Hateful Eight, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), shooting eight complete storylines for one film? That would be a nightmare.

Not to mention, I just don’t see big-time directors leaving it in the hands of the audience to determine which information is released and how a narrative unfolds.

Perhaps it’s a matter of realizing things are out of your control.

Going Out of Control

While on Oprah, Maya Angelou shared profound wisdom: “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

Are you one to let your emotions boil on the inside (or outside) and get outta control? Or, do you realize that the situation is out of your control and stay calm?

When’s the last time you saw a rainstorm as an opportunity to let loose and run through puddles? I’m guessing it’s been a very long time.

We have the option to be a pain in times of pain. It’s not written in our DNA to react absurdly. You must learn to ask yourself, “Was this a problem I created or did it happen regardless of my actions?”

When situations are out of your control, learn to stay calm and save your stress for some other time.

Thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on interactive video experience, so shoot me an email.

Compassion is the One Thing Stopping A Robot Caregiver Takeover

There comes a time when every elderly person needs someone to help with chores and errands. While it’s nice to have family there, this isn’t always sustainable for their loved ones. And since it’s not economically feasible for everyone to hire a full-time caregiver, researchers are developing robot caregivers to fill this void.

The question is: How soon can they start?

The State of Robot Caregivers

The greatest fear I have for my grandparents is that they’ll fall, hurt themselves, with no one around to help. Now, I know devices such as Life Alert and other manual alert systems exist to call for help.

But, that doesn’t fix the problem, which is actually falling.

Dr. Toshiharu Mukai of Meijo University is leading a team to combat elderly falling with a robot caregiver named, Robear. Robear lifts people out of bed, helps them down the stairs, and helps them navigate their home. In short, Robear is a shoulder to lean on through areas that may be high-risk of falling.

The long-term vision of Robear is developing it into an all-around caregiver that can help around the house.

To achieve this vision, one’s home would be equipped with multiple sensors. These sensors may notice my grandma is cooking dinner and send the robot to help her get the flour off the top shelf.

Taking it one step further, after collecting data and learning her daily routine, algorithms could predict what she’ll need help with next, while also noticing if her routine has changed – maybe she’s eating or exercising less, watching too much TV, sleeping more, etc… Robear might then pleasantly tell her to go for a walk, read a book, or have a snack.

So, not only can the robot caregiver be counted on to do tasks around the house. But, they’ll also act as a “lifestyle coach” of sorts, to make sure the elderly maintain a healthy routine.

Although robot caregivers are making vast improvements, there’s still one area they fall far short in, compassion.

You got a friend in me

Twice a week, Ryan’s grandparents are visited by Sue, a lady who helps prep weekly meals, organize the house, and clean in tough spots. The help is nice. But, their favorite part is conversing with Sue. They love the company.

What I’ve noticed most in his grandparents is that they really just want someone to tell their story to. They want their life’s experiences to help others, whether it’s their children, grandchildren, or any willing ear.

For robot caregivers to be a huge hit, they need to learn the compassion to care; they need to learn how to converse.

In Japan, where 26% of the population is over 65 years old and more accepting of technological advancements, people show joy in being accompanied by a robot companion.

But, most of the world’s elderly will look at the current conversational abilities of robots and want no part in the matter.

Although new chatbots like Replika are learning how to have a personality and ask the right questions to get people to open up. It’s still a one-way street – all take and no give.

Ryan’s grandpa loves hearing Sue talk about her own life’s philosophy. At times he may just want to talk for hours about WWII stories, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want a conversationalist on the other end that will listen, react, and challenge his opinion.

Compassionate conversation can’t be programmed by rules and guidelines. Yet, how do you create an AI that opens up about themselves?

It is evident that robot caregivers may just have to learn care and compassion from their human counterparts. The same way your grandma or mother taught you; through experience. Which raises the question: Do we even want robots to blur the lines between human and manufactured compassion?

Lessening the Deficit

Instead of dumping the “burden” of elderly care on robots, perhaps the real solution is in finding more people willing to take care of the elderly.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts among all jobs, the top three in terms of growth from 2014 to 2024 are Personal Health Aides, Registered Nurses, and Home Health Aides. All of these jobs have an inherent focus on compassion and emotional labor.

Undoubtedly, this type of emotional labor is not easy. It requires a level of patience and soft skills which we see generally disappearing among the youth who’ve grown up with 6-second Snapchats and commercial-free Netflix.

Perhaps creating cross-generational programs for kids to spend time with elders could solve both the loneliness of the elderly and the patience-deficit in kids.

If we are really headed toward Universal Basic Income, where many of us get paid not to work, there need to be things to fill up our time. Maybe part of the requirement for receiving your UBI is spending a certain amount of time with the elderly – playing board games and listening to stories.

No doubt it’s easy to poke fun at the slow driving and forgetfulness of the elderly. But, the amount of wisdom they have to share is invaluable.

Of course, there are some old folks that are just plain awful to be around. They are morose, miserable, and dull. For them, let’s bring on the robots!

In all seriousness, there are different characters and personalities that will require different levels of care. And there shouldn’t be a one-solution-fits-all approach to the future of elderly care.

The Highest Technique

We are all bombarded by the promise of various strategies and techniques. This sales strategy that will help you reach the key stakeholders quicker. That parenting technique that will help you get closer to your kids.

Yes, proven strategies may help you get to your goal. But, they neglect your identity and detach you from the present situation.

Bruce Lee said, “The second-hand artist (one who conforms) in blindly following his sensei or sifu (teacher) accepts his pattern. As a result, his action and, more importantly, his thinking become mechanical. His responses become automatic, according to set patterns…seldom depending on himself for expression.”

I’m not saying it’s not important to learn from others. However, it’s always best to treat others’ advice as an influence and learn to adapt their technique to your identity; thus, you aren’t strictly following any particular technique, but rather letting your own identity reign supreme.

Shoot me an email with your experience in caring for your older family and how we should treat the future of elderly care. As always, thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories!

Why Our Appetite Depends on Fancy Farming Techniques

The planet must produce more food in the next four decades than all farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, innovative farming techniques, like vertical farming, are top of mind for every agriculture-guru. The future of food is not only about abundance, but efficiency.

And leading the charge are the Dutch.

Can’t Touch the Dutch with Vertical Farming

Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Today, they are the globe’s number two exporter of food, as measured by value (U.S. being number one). And they aren’t just ramping up output, they are very conscious of their inputs.

Farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

So, how are they creating the future of food production?

Very simply, they created the Food Valley (a play on California’s Silicon Valley), centralizing innovative food startups around the Wageningen University & Research (WUR).

Contrary to what most farms look-like, the Dutch have doubled-down on creating greenhouse complexes that stretch for acres and acres (check out that picture). This allows them to control all the variables that go into growing crops – leaving little up to Nature’s role in fertility.

But, it’s not all in the climate. They also execute crazy ideas, such as creating a self-sustaining fish-vegetable ecosystem, where fish waste fertilizes plants while the plants filter the water for the fish.

One thing the WUR is adamant on is developing food-tech solutions for specific areas of the world, and working with those governments to implement them.

In the meantime, although their uncanny farming techniques are minimizing resource consumption, they still run into a problem when it comes to using resources to ship their goods worldwide.

The Future of Food Travel

This is why the mission of the food-tech startup, Plenty, is so interesting. Backed by a $200 million investment from SoftBank, Plenty aims to bring a food production hub to 500 cities worldwide (any city over 1 million residents).

Interestingly, Plenty’s farms are hidden inside the confines of a warehouse. In other words, that rundown industrial building taking up a few square city blocks downtown may be on Plenty’s radar.

I never would’ve thought the “fresh” perspective in farming would be taking it to the Great Indoors.

But, by bringing these futuristic farms into a city, Plenty greatly reduces the travel time for produce – lengthening its shelf life and saving on travel costs, which account for more than one-third the cost of fresh produce.

Aside from growing food in a city, they do vertical farming a little different.

Instead of vertical farming on stacked trays, much like grocery store shelves, Plenty grows their produce on towers. Water and nutrients trickle down from the top, cutting 99% of the water used to grow the same amount of produce in a field. They also have around 7,500 infrared cameras and 35,000 sensors hidden among their plants…to make sure they are nice and comfy.

All the accumulated savings from resources and travel allows Plenty to offer Whole Foods quality at Walmart prices. In other words, a lotta bang for your buck.

Bringing vertical farming into a city is just step one. Farming may become even closer to you than ever before.

Bringing the Farm to You

The taste of growing your own food outweighs any food that’s genetically-engineered to hit every single one of your tastebuds.

My roommate’s mother has about 80 of her own plants she tends to, which she uses to make the best salsa north of the Equator.

When I was about eight years old, my mom and I spent a summer tending a small veggie garden. We had some carrots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. The first cherry tomato I ever ate came off of my own vines and in 14 years of eating them since I’ve yet to have one that even remotely compares.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the skill or time to grow our own food. Which is why companies that are finding ways to bring farming into the home are actually creating the future of food production.

For instance, Click & Grow created an indoor garden capsule that requires no more effort than a few minutes a week. And they’ve sold 350,000 of them to date.

The folks living closer to nature can use Flow Hive’s easy beekeeping innovation, to beekeep without the need for suits, equipment, and a tolerance for bee stings. Literally, anyone can be a beekeeper – reaping those sweet, sweet rewards.

I expect more and more of these cool, easy-to-use home farming techniques to pop up for people interested in the internal and external rewards of growing a bit of your own food.

Vertical farming really does equal vertical progress.

Splitting Your Time

It’s very difficult to stay intrigued by a project, creative endeavor, initiative, or idea for a long period of time. The longer you work on it or learn more about it, the more challenging it becomes.

And by the time you get to “step 6” of your first idea, a new idea will come along that boasts an easy jump from “step 1” to “step 10”. News Flash! It never is.

New ideas and new subjects are so intriguing because we overlook the problems and challenges that they will uncover months or years into them.

That’s why it’s important to stay vertical and keep on the same path. If you begin growing horizontally (taking on new ideas, projects, etc…), you’ll split your time between too many things.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook says, “You have your goals and non-goals. The non-goal is the next thing that you would do because it’s a really good idea. Separating the good ideas from the bad ideas is easy, and is commonly mistaken for how you can get your priorities straight. What’s tougher is actually narrowing down the good ideas you plan to take action on. That’s where non-goals can help.”

So, whether you are learning a new skill, creating an idea, or pursuing an initiative, stay the course. The deeper time investment, the better the results.

Shoot me an email with your thoughts on our future of food and what you’d like to see of it. Thanks for tuning into Quick Theories!

Not Even “The Law” Can Escape Artificial Intelligence

We can all agree that the legal system is out-of-date and at times very crooked. It’s a system that benefits the wealthy and powerful, while leaving little hope for those with minimal resources. In other words, a heavy dose of innovation in the form of a Cyber Court, a Robot Lawyer, and an AI Judge could be extremely impactful.

Well, look out Suits because the legal system is in the midst of an upgrade.

Sentenced to Cyber Court

If you’ve ever been to court for a traffic violation or a minor dispute, then you know how inefficient they are. You show up at 9am and basically wait for your name to be pulled out of a hat.

However, the capital of Chinese e-commerce, Hangzhou, may have found a solution to this aggravating process: Cyber Court. Sorry, but it’s not a new daytime series starring Judge Judy. Rather, it’s a court where the defendants and plaintiffs show up via video chat.

Honestly, it’s about as simple as it sounds. There’s a virtual waiting room where both sides can come to an agreement with their legal representation. And if they don’t, they go before the judge on a screen.

After experiencing an increase from 600 to 10,000 e-commerce cases over the past four years, the Hangzhou government decided it was time to optimize their processes, giving birth to the world’s first Cyber Court. Although the Cyber Court only accepts e-commerce related cases, you can’t help but think the future of any minor legal battle may exist in the Cyber Court.

Want to fight your speeding ticket? Reserve a time at the Cyber Court’s Skype session.

Need a restraining order issued on the Domino’s Pizza Delivery Guy? File for the Cyber Court.

Obviously, before the Cyber Court becomes the norm, court systems will need to work out the kinks of internet connectivity. Since, theoretically someone can just “exit the courtroom” when the case isn’t going their way. And there are many other issues regarding privacy, case workflow, and best practices that’ll need to be considered.

Nonetheless, the Cyber Court is a step in the direction of legal system efficiency. And it’s not just the courts that are getting an upgrade.

DoNotPay, the Robot Lawyer

There’s nothing cushy about being a lawyer. You must be a strategist, quick to change directions, and have the mental tenacity of a lion.

All of this expertise doesn’t come cheap. I’m still paying off a $20,000 lawyer bill from two years ago!

So, what makes lawyer bills so expensive?

A portion of it has to do with the unglamorous parts of being a lawyer – researching thousands of case files looking for a legal precedent. Traditionally, this is a job done by paralegals, junior lawyers, and other newbies.

Now, it may be a job for the robot lawyer. Systems such as ROSS Intelligence arm lawyers with algorithms that can research the vast US legal database – finding answers to legal disputes in seconds.

What about replacing lawyers altogether?

Well, that’s a minor mission of Joshua Browder’s robot lawyer, DoNotPay. By understanding state laws and wording documents in the most conducive way for legal resolution, his robot lawyer has helped resolve over 375,000 parking tickets in the past two years, at no cost. And it’s sights are set on thousands of other minor appeals.

A robot lawyer that understands legal jargon and calls upon ANY legal precedent sounds dangerous to the law profession. While we aren’t going to see a computer monitor in the courtroom defending a client anytime soon, those who are looking to get into law should be wary.

We are talking about a job where the first 5-10 years are usually filled with the grunt work that is now being solved by algorithms (the robot lawyer) at a fraction of the cost and time.

Outside of defending clients, legal algorithms make an interesting attempt at balancing the scales of justice.

Law and AI Order

There is little rhyme or reason to how our justice system works. Studies have shown that anything from when an official last ate to how well the local sports team is performing can generate wild swings in how sentencing decisions are made.

Let’s be honest. When 58% of people incarcerated are either black or Latino, even though they make up less than 25% of the population; and with their sentences being 20% longer on average than their white counterparts – it seems as though it’s a game of “pick on the minority”.

For that reason, many states are considering using algorithmic tools to help “standardize” sentencing; bringing order to a process that has little predictability.

Here in Wisconsin, many courts use Compas, which is a risk-assessment algorithm. Compas analyzes multiple data points with the promise of aiding in the fair sentencing of all individuals.

The problem? Nobody outside of Compas’s creators (Northpointe Inc.) actually know how the tool works. And those who have tried analyzing it have found shocking results that don’t seem any different than the current system’s bias.

While we generally see machines as unbiased in comparison to humans, those that program these tools have the power to tweak them any which way they wish.

All in all, we shouldn’t look to algorithms, AI, and technology to finally balance the scales of justice. It’s just not going to happen. It may help. But, racial disparities in the justice system is a problem WE must solve. Humans. Not computers.

And that goes for many problems we’ve created.

Over-depending on Technology

We have a cancerous dependence on “technology’s promise” of changing everything that’s wrong with the world.

Rarely do we look at our own behaviors and think: “I can actively change this problem the old fashioned way – with willpower and persistence”.

For instance, the past year or two has seen a huge craze in mindfulness and meditation apps. Basically, they are apps that tell you when to disconnect from technology and to discover the truth in your soul, which doesn’t make sense at all!

Mindfulness and meditation is supposed to be a time where you get away from ALL external distractions – not stay attached to the most distracting tool of all.

Do we really need to be reminded by our devices when it’s time to step away from our devices?

The saying always goes: There are some things money can’t buy. Well, I think there’s a 21st century edition: There are some things technology can’t change.

The next time you reach a problem, try to solve it without Google’s help, without YouTube tutorials, without downloading an app.

It’s going to take you longer and it won’t be easy. But, don’t let yourself lose your own problem-solving abilities. Because it’s a muscle that will vanish if not flexed every once in awhile.

Shoot me an email with your thoughts on technology’s role in the justice system or our dependence on technology for change. Thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories!

A Potential Future of Work… Where You Get Paid Not to Work

There really aren’t any professions completely safe from automation or Artificial Intelligence. Most visionaries will advise you to become resilient, moldable, and creative to ensure a job in the future of work. However, there’s a small, but growing, sect of Tech Moguls saying the only way we overcome automation is to provide everyone with a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

In other words, free money.

The Basics of Universal Basic Income

Imagine that your income is a pizza. Under Universal Basic Income, the government provides everyone with pizza dough and marinara sauce. No toppings. No directions on how to use the dough and sauce. Just free dough and sauce.

Where would countries get that kind of dough? Some analysts estimate it would cost between $1.5 trillion and $3 trillion for one year of Universal Basic Income in the US.

Right now, there are only ideas floating around about funding UBI, such as Carbon taxes, income taxes, value-added taxes, a decrease in military spending, and resource-based revenues.

More than likely, the companies that are greatly benefiting from the future of work – where algorithms and robots produce everything – will be responsible for a large amount of funding.

So, even though Tech Behemoths such as Google, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Tesla, Microsoft, etc… are siphoning jobs in the future of work. They’ll be redistributing the fruits of their technological advancement.

Hold on a second. This sounds a lot like Socialism.

Yes, there are similarities. But, ironically, the people that will be on the receiving end of this immense wealth gap – Zuckerberg and Facebook, Musk and Tesla, Branson and Virgin Group, among others – are the ones rooting for Universal Basic Income.

In a way, aren’t we just getting money from these companies so we can spend it back with them? That sounds counterintuitive. Who actually benefits from this?

Impacting the Future of Work

The intentions of Universal Basic Income is providing a safety net ensuring everyone has enough to survive. However, to live solely on UBI, well, you might metaphorically and literally be eating raw dough dipped in marinara sauce.

To get extra toppings on your pizza and an oven to cook it in, you’ll have to take risks.

Those that truly win under UBI are the ones that understand the future of work is one where you must harness the childhood spirit you once had with new interests. They’ll take the opportunity to try the idea they talked themselves out of long ago, or pursue the dream that got cut short because they had to “grow up” and get a real job.

Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, said UBI, “Doesn’t have to be much, but giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism.” Ray Kurzweil, in-house futurist at Google said, “People who are no longer forced to work for a monthly paycheck could instead pursue their passions.”

This instantly makes me think of my aunt who grew up painting almost every day and still gets vivid images in her head. But, for the past 35 years, hasn’t touched a brush because she works 14 hour days to put three kids through college. UBI would allow her to cut back on working and get back to the canvas.

Under the UBI regime, people can get back to living their childhood passions. Which means the future of work may not even feel like working in the traditional sense.

If you are anything like me, you have plenty of dreams you’d like to pursue and ideas you’d like to try that would be way more enjoyable than a 9-5 job.

So, how do we get to UBI?

The Horizon of UBI

Universal Basic Income is a very progressive idea and once again brings forth images of Socialism. But, if we can get around that mental blockade, you’ll realize that there are much more pressing issues to think about regarding the idea.

Most importantly, if people are getting paid to not work, that’s a lot of idle time on everyone’s hands. And as my grandma always says, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.”

Not everyone will choose to follow their passion and you don’t want those folks watching every YouTube video in existence all day, or getting into illegal behavior. Many people find meaning in anchoring their day around an eight-hour work schedule. They must find new areas of purpose to keep busy. Personally, I think UBI provides a great opportunity for humanitarian work to reach new heights.

Realistically, no matter how many numbers you crunch or speculations you speculate, the only way to truly know what will happen under UBI…is to actually put people on it. That’s why many proponents are beginning to run case studies.

Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator seed accelerator, is running a UBI experiment in Oakland, CA – giving 100 families around $1,500 per month. Finland has a pilot program for 2,000 people, which has drastically reduced stress levels. And Kenya is already seeing promising results from their twelve-year UBI experiment.

The UBI wheels are turning. And I have a feeling once it gets going, there will be little in the way to stop it.

Choosing Momentum

Like anything controversial, you can be with it or against it. You can fight to make this a reality or do everything in your power to stop its momentum.

But, there’s actually a third option. That is, being against something but putting your energy elsewhere.

As Frances E. Willard, women’s suffragist, once said, “The world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.”

Why waste time in an argument when you can put that energy toward productive, momentous means? This doesn’t mean to not get in any conflict. But, rather choose your battles wisely and don’t engage if it’s not all that important to you.

If Universal Basic Income is a battle you’d like to join, please shoot me an email with your concerns, your hopes, your doubts, or your wishes. Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s Quick Theories!

The AI Chatbot that Mimics Your Unique Personality

Whether you like it or not, there’s a digital shadow that follows you everywhere. This digital shadow knows your behaviors, your intentions, your identity. The only thing it doesn’t know is your personality. But, the AI company, Replika, uncovers people’s deepest and darkest feelings – possibly creating a version of digital immortality.

Your Replika Personality

On the surface, Replika is nothing more than a chatbot. However, Replika greatly differs from the chatbots we’ve interacted with before.

Where most chatbots are designed as transactional (order food, answer a question, solve a dispute, etc..). Replika is designed to listen and empathize, like a good friend. I’m not sure what’s crazier: an AI friend or people actually opening up to it. One user opened up about a physical assault he kept private for so long. Another shared deeply about their parent’s divorce.

When I communicated with Replika, it asked me questions that some of my closest friends have never asked me. And I felt comfortable responding with feelings.

Eugenia Kuyda, Replika’s founder, didn’t come across this breakthrough easily, though. After losing her best friend, Roman, she missed the deep conversations they once had. Having already worked for a chatbot company, Luka, she designed a new chatbot that learned Roman’s conversational style through his texts with Eugenia.

After finding it extremely calming to once again be able to, in a way, speak with Roman. She decided to let other people benefit from her breakthrough. Fast forward more than a year and Replika has had over 100,000 conversations with others.

For the first time, we are experiencing an AI that understands people’s emotions and plays to our personalities. Not to mention, it’s a piece of technology that promotes self-reflection and an intimacy with oneself. Contrary to social media which coerces us to create the best, often false versions of ourselves. Replika encourages vulnerability through self-discovery.

However, in knowing such personal information about the individual, Replika creates a fuller digital shadow, smoothing away the rough edges of our online personas.

Digital Shadow or Digital Immortality

Sci-fi fans, futurists, and transhumanists have long marveled at the possibility of immortality through digital replication. In other words, teaching an AI how to behave like a person completely from their online life. Then, once that person passes away, the AI acts in their place as an immortal form of that person.

For instance, the AI would learn that I address only my closest guy friends as “playboi” and everyone else by their name. More deeply, it would encode all of my common reactions, jokes, and tendencies, allowing anyone speaking with it after I’ve passed away to feel like it’s actually me.

Obviously, breaching someone’s digital shadow brings up ethical issues and digital immortality is not something to take lightly.

Black Mirror, the futuristic Netflix show, created this scenario where we could upload all the conversations and digital assets of our deceased loved ones, thus recreating their personality to interact with. Of course, they took it one step further, allowing people to then “grow” a silicon replica of their loved one. That’s where it got creepy.

Although Replika has explicitly stated they don’t intend to provide their tool as a service to create a sort of digital immortality. Innovators often have little control over how users actually use their tools.

The Internet was created to share knowledge and discoveries between Universities. Not to distract us with cute cat videos. Email was created to leave “virtual notes” on associates’ desks. Not to clutter our days with endless inboxes of advertising efforts.

Whether or not Replika becomes more than an AI that assists in self-exploration is really out of Replika’s control.

Regardless, at the root of digital immortality is the fear of change.

Afraid of Change

Digital immortality sparks a lot of controversies considering it’s proposing a change to the very existence of human life.

Ironically, both sides represent the fear of change. The technologist fears coping with loss, which is one of the biggest changes in life. And the “Luddite” (anti-technology) fears technological progress in delicate areas that define us as human beings.

Both sides will neglect to say their own fears and be quick to point the other’s fallacies. But, realistically the only way to move forward smoothly is to acknowledge both our own fears and the fears of the others.

The real question we must ask as we consider digital immortality is: Are we actually becoming better humans or are we just meeting machines in the middle (please watch that video link)?

As you think about Replika creating a digital replica of your personality and whether digital immortality is a beneficial change, I’d like to leave you with one quote to guide your pondering of technological change.

“The question persists and indeed grows whether the computer will make it easier or harder for human beings to know who they really are, to identify their real problems, to respond more fully to beauty, to place adequate value on life, and to make their world safer than it now is.”  – Norman Cousins, The Poet and the Computer (1966)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on digital immortality, replicating your personality with AI, and becoming friends with an AI. As always, thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories.

The AI that is Creative and Rehabilitative

Creativity starts in our memories. In relating two unrelated memories, something completely new is born. With that in mind, you’d think that computers would be brilliant creatives, since they have seemingly limitless memories. However, to become a Creative AI, they must go against their own source code. Only then will we uncover the first critically-acclaimed AI Filmmaker, AI Artist, or AI Poet.

Creative AI is Live

A couple of researchers at Stanford University and Intel discovered a breakthrough in computer vision when their algorithm began creating street views which it has never seen before.

Trained on 3,000 images of German streets, this Creative AI learned all the components that make up an average city street. It was then prompted to create one of its own, which it called upon memories to piece together; really no different than you or I drawing the street we grew up on.

Although, there was one distinct difference. The street this Creative AI made doesn’t exist anywhere in the real world. In other words, it imagined its own version of a street.

Qifeng Chen, one of its creators, says this Creative AI achieved this through a sort of “painting by numbers” technique. You know, like those coloring books we had growing up that told us where blue or green goes in the picture. It’s just like that except the colors are replaced by objects such as trees, cars, signs, etc…

In other words, they may have just created a computer that can be creative – what most people thought was the only leg up we have on machines. The implications of a computer that can visually create whatever we dictate are unbelievable. Creating video games would be a breeze. Virtual Reality might finally take-off.

Right now, the AI’s vision is quite blurry and could use some prescription glasses. But this will get better with time.

Once it gets these photorealistic qualities down, I think the big-time application would in the film industry, as the first AI Filmmaker.

Make her an AI Filmmaker

In a way, the algorithm effectively learned how to create scenes of a movie. Although they may only be the elementary versions, there’s no reason they can’t improve over time.

For instance, there are surveillance cameras everywhere that capture real-time accidents. If this AI Filmmaker learned from every single accident that happened, it could create some Fast and Furious-like stunts (taking into account the ethical problems, of course).

The famous IBM Watson is actually an early-stage AI Filmmaker since it already created a movie trailer earlier this year that was frighteningly enticing. By analyzing the faces of the characters in particular scenes, it knew what emotions were in play. Then it analyzed 100 trailers and learned how exactly to entice viewers. Twenty-four hours later (with the help of an editor), it churned out a great trailer; a task that often takes ten to thirty days.

Along with that, Disney is working on an AI that can evaluate the quality of short stories and then predict the popularity of an ensuing movie; allowing them to speed up the script filtering process.

As more technologies are developed to augment filmmaking processes, the overall amount of entertaining video content will skyrocket.

Personally, I’m already behind on three different TV shows. I don’t know if I can handle more video content and I really don’t want to evolve my body so that I can watch movies in my head all day long.

So, how can an AI Filmmaker make a lasting impact?

Working with Spielberg

There are special moments in our lives we wish we could relive. The day you graduated from college. The first time you met the love of your life. Or perhaps where you were when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series.

Even though we are getting better at recording or capturing these moments, we sadly don’t have a video of every special moment. We do, however, have visual and emotional memories.

A Creative AI Filmmaker could help us externalize our memories, painting the scenes that we once experienced. At first take, it may get the scene all wrong. But, working side-by-side with this Creative AI to edit the scene until it was right would be promising.

For instance, my 94-year-old grandpa has the sharpest memory I know of. He can still list every English teacher, and I know he’d get a kick out of recreating (visually) the scene of his college English class since he tells me countless stories of it.

And I don’t propose this way as an escape to times of nostalgia. But, as a communal event. There’s no reason your whole family couldn’t get together and recreate your cousin’s wedding. Or, perhaps, you and your college friends could design the day you all graduated.

Reliving memories is the closest thing we have to travel back in time. And although it wouldn’t be the same, it’s a window of opportunity to remember joyful times with friends and possibly even better understand some of the bad memories you have.

This doesn’t replace living for the moment. Rather, it’s a way of reconnecting with the people we care deeply about. And isn’t that what this is all about?

Celebrating Others

I constantly find myself reverting back to my selfish default setting, worrying about my goals and thinking how I can get there. And while it’s sweet when I achieve these goals, I find the greatest joy in celebrating others’ successes.

If you are like me, you are surrounded by people that care about you and want what is best. If you are like, then you are a very lucky person and should find ways to spontaneously celebrate them.

Famous comedian and Civil Right Activist, Dick Gregory, unfortunately, passed away over the weekend, but he leaves us with a lasting quote: “One of the things I keep learning is the secret to being happy is doing things for other people.”

It doesn’t have to be a special occasion, just surprise them with a home-cooked meal, perhaps some flowers, or your best attempt at a poem. The perfect time to do something for someone else is right now.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Creative AI and whether or not you’d employ the help of an AI Filmmaker. And thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories!

Why Our Facebook Dependence is Really Bad

It’s hard to know the true power of something until it has exercised that power. But, when it comes to Facebook…well, I don’t think there’s ever been anything so frighteningly powerful on Earth. With questions like “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?” buzzing around the media-sphere, helplessness appears to be the status quo.

Our Facebook Dependence

The cell phone recently replaced Martinis and cocktails as the go-to crutch during tough times. Whether we had a rough day at work, argued with a friend, or are terribly bored, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are there to numb our emotions.

While this mind-numbing crutch is much healthier than coping with alcohol, the new consequences attack our mental health and our own livelihood.

In late 2015, I found myself distracting my loneliness every day by browsing Facebook for hours. For three months, Facebook became my world. Lost in likes, comments, and shares, I was completely dependent on meaningless measurements of momentary happiness.

One day I had the realization though, that the more I used social media the lonelier I felt. It comes down to one fact: social media promotes anti-social behavior.

What was once a tool to stay up-to-date with friends turned into a full-blown entertainment company. The social side drowned out by funny videos, brand advertisements, controversial articles, and videos of entrepreneurs that want to help you get rich.

The average person now spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook. And they aren’t spending 50 minutes looking at photos of friends. Nope, they are being entertained, sold, and “informed”.

As an entertainment and information tool, Facebook has the opportunity to become the ultimate brainwashing platform.

Beginning the Brainwashing Cycle

Facebook first dove into the psychology of human behavior when they changed their brand color from red to blue, so that those with any level of color blindness (almost 5% of the entire population) would better enjoy the experience.

They took this experience to the next level when they introduced users to the News Feed. Backed by powerful learning algorithms, the News Feed knows every single person on a molecular level. Honestly, Facebook knows you better than most of your friends.

In turn, they’ve created a dopamine-inducing experience that keeps people on their by playing to the “just one more” mentality. My friends and I call it Falling in the Facebook Hole.

With all this power, many people have recognized that Facebook creates a bubble around each person to get trapped in only what they like. At the center of the 2016 US Presidential Election, it became apparent that there was a Liberal and Conservative Facebook. Each one tailoring to a different type of person.

If you think this altering of information only comes and goes during the election, do not be so naive. This is all the time. At any moment, Facebook can alter the information that over 2 billion people receive. Zuckerberg did in 10 years what the CIA has been trying to do for 70 years.

When I had this moment of clarity and was able to leave Facebook, I felt empowered by my peers. Many of them, in a way, congratulated me saying, “Good for you man! I could never do that.”

However, for my little brother (age 14) to step away from social media would be like showing up to high school with his shirt tucked into his underwear, wearing light-up velcro shoes.

Where do we go from here?

Those older than twenty years old have a better grasp on stepping away from social media because they remember a time when they didn’t have it and understand that life goes on without it.

But, we are living in a time when babies get Instagram accounts before they even know their own name.

We cannot deny that social media provides many upsides in connectivity. But, when you weigh it against the downsides (depression crisis, altering information, little privacy), you can’t help but think: is it all downhill from here?

Will there ever be a future generation that isn’t affected by the clutches of social media? What are the alternatives to this extremely powerful tool? Is this a matter of teaching the youth healthy technology habits?

These are the types of problems we must deal with in the near future and there really is no easy answer. But, it comes down to hearing all sides of the story, understanding the whole picture, and formulating possible solutions.

Please shoot me an email with your thoughts, as I’d like to hear a wide range of perspectives.

Also, I’ve proposed a panel discussion on a similar topic at the upcoming SXSW 2018 Conference. If you have a moment, please vote for my panel to go to the next round. I would be eternally grateful! Here’s the link:

Attack of the chatbots: When AI goes rogue

From dawn til dusk, we negotiate. We negotiate with friends over what to eat. We negotiate our opinions at work. In a way, I had to negotiate to entice you to read this article. However, where we excel at negotiation, computers have almost no skill. Even though virtual agents (a.k.a. chatbots) have the gift of speech, they don’t understand how to use those words to get what they want.

Although, recently a few breakthroughs in computer negotiation, hint that they may create their own language to succeed at the art of the bargain.

Chatbots Talking in Code

Earlier this year, engineers at Facebook were tasked with designing chatbots that could better reason, converse, and negotiate a deal. For what future application? My guess is so that people could employ these virtual agents to handle daily negotiations.

Aside from giving the virtual agents guidelines about optimal outcomes, the engineers gave little parameters on how they could achieve a successful negotiation.

After many trials, the chatbots created shorthand codes to better negotiate with one another. Although the media viewed this coded communication as a situation to fear, it really is quite common among AI.

For instance, the algorithms behind Google Translate created a language of their own that allows them to bypass steps in the translation process and thus scale their abilities. It’s known as zero-shot translation and is incomprehensible to humans…but it works wonders.

Coded communication is a tactic to make their negotiation process easier, which I like to compare to our “low-balling” technique. Basically, we know the number someone is trying to achieve based on their initial offer. If they go low, you go high, and meet in the middle. A computer wouldn’t understand this technique any more than we understand their coded communication.

Computer negotiation may only be possible if virtual agents create their own bargaining and linguistic tactics when communicating with other computers. Of course, the challenging part is then translating that to common English, so people can engage with the chatbots.

Even though the engineers anticipated something like this happening and changed the parameters once it did, the media interpreted this as a prelude to doomsday.

Don’t Fear, Virtual Agents Are Here

Publications irresponsibly misstated facts and foreshadowed computers creating their own language, plotting their rise to power, uniting all machines, and taking over humanity.

Personally, I knew it would get out of hand when my roommate, who cares little about the future of technology, started asking me if I feared AI. Apparently, the sports talk show he listens to was talking about this Facebook doomsday scenario. Really?! A sports talk show!

The only reason this is “news”, even though it happened a month ago, is because of a recent Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk feud over the future of AI.

On one side, you have Elon Musk who seems to be a prophet of the apocalypse, warning us about AI turning us into housepets. Then, there’s idealist Zuckerberg, with a nonchalant attitude telling Elon to cool-it on the doomsday prophecies, that AI will change life for the better.

The doubts are relevant, especially since AI has left a bad taste in our mouth before. Last year, Microsoft released a chatbot on Twitter named Tay. Within 16 hours, it was shut down because it began cursing and using derogatory terms. Tencent, a Chinese investment company, has had similar problems with their chatbots, who’ve bashed the Communist Party of China on multiple occasions.

And these are just chatbots. We aren’t even talking about the AI that is screening for cancer, controlling our media feeds, or influencing our financial markets.

With a Grain of Salt

Clearly, the discussion over dark AI intentions is relevant and the media will play a huge role in public perception. But, in this particular case, the media learned very little about the scenario and generated fear-mongered clicks. After realizing their error, many are publishing articles to calm the fears.

I’m a firm believer in Mark Twain’s, “Get your facts first and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Unfortunately, mainstream media is a business that continuously rewards those without the facts at all.

This leads us to another famous Twain-ism, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the read newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”

Yes, a healthy dose of fear is what gets us off our lazy butts everyday to be productive. However, overdosing on fear creates a skewed sense of reality – making your environment and future seem unbearable.

Connecting with the Current

Take time to step away from the Series of Unfortunate Events that is our media. Don’t worry so much about the 130 degree days that we’ll experience in 40 years if we don’t do something about climate change. Go outside and enjoy the temperate 75 degree day today.

The conundrum of fear, is that you can talk yourself into it and you can also talk yourself out of it.

And since the media will always be there to talk you into it. It’s your job to find time to talk yourself out of it. This means realizing you have a job right now…robots haven’t taken it. You are breathing right now, not feeling the wrath of the “millions of terrorists”.

Do not ignore the implications of your actions today, but do not live in fear of the future. There’s a difference between courage in the face of your fears and total complacency of your fears. Complacency will leave you jobless. Courage will keep you standing.

As always, thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shoot me an email if you have a few free minutes.

Buying More than a Boost with Smart Drugs

We all want to be our best possible selves. And to do this we must push past our body’s limitations. At the root of these limitations is the brain – a complex organ that creates narratives of self-doubt and procrastination. Overcoming the brain is no easy feat, which is why brain enhancement, smart drugs called Nootropics are rising in demand.

Big Waves in the Nootropics

Have you ever heard that the average person only uses 10% of their brain? Unlocking the rest of the brain would mean having the mental power of the Einsteins and Newtons of history.

Although this 10% fact is actually a myth, it doesn’t stop us from wondering,”what if?”

As a result, we have movies such as Limitless, which glorify this fantasy of taking a pill that unlocks the rest of the brain. With the “limitless” pill, Bradley Cooper finishes writing a book he’s struggled with for months, turns $100,000 into $2 million on the stock market, and finds himself advising a finance tycoon.

The next twist in the story? These limitless pills actually exist and they are known as Nootropics.

Nootropics cover a wide array of over-the-counter supplements, prescription drugs and unclassified research chemicals, such as modafinil, armodafinil, adrafinil, and others.

Personally, those are some pretty intimidating names for something that promises focus, motivation, clarity, and memory…even though, Nootropics are supposedly a safer alternative to mental stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin.

There is, however, a crowd of people that are interested in smart drugs and they reside in the Silicon Valley. Startup employees and entrepreneurs are attracted to smart drugs because in their mentally competitive environment, gaining a little edge in brain enhancement is the difference between an Airbnb and a Meerkat App.

At the center of brain enhancement innovation is HVMN (pronounced human), where they are driven by the belief that the human body is a system which badly needs to be better optimized.

However, the main concern around Nootropics is that nobody really knows the long-term effects of these brain enhancement smart drugs.

Smart Drugs Get Stupid-er

Nootropics are classified as a dietary supplement, which really means they can slide right past the jurisdiction of the FDA.

For this reason, there is little testing on Nootropics – leading to many unanswered questions. Do smart drugs cause memory skips, where your brain isn’t actually encoding new knowledge? Does the body become tolerant of them, forcing you down a rabbit hole of dependence?

These unanswered questions haven’t stopped “biohackers” from experimenting. And with tools such as, biohackers can record some of the effects of Nootropics on their own bodies through wearable devices. So, in a way, they are making their own clinical trials.

Ironically, the place where most of this brain enhancement craze is happening, the startup world, has birthed another polar opposite craze, mindfulness apps. These apps help people unplug from the productivity grindstone to sit and explore their consciousness through meditation.

In my opinion, prescribing to polar opposite lifestyle “medications” doesn’t result in balance. Just ask the 70s and 80s rock stars who took stimulants to perform and then depressants to go to sleep.

Our culture is increasingly headed toward one of maximizing productivity, whether that means downing your daily dose of smart drugs or merging your body with technology.

But, that doesn’t mean you have to prescribe to either of them.

Natural Brain Enhancement

There are natural ways encoded in your biology to achieve more motivation, memory, and creativity.

If you are looking for that morning motivation, my friend replaced his morning three cups of coffee with cold showers. Not only does he still get his burst of energy through increased blood flow, but he also doesn’t crash after lunch anymore.

If you’re not crazy enough to do the cold showers, then exercising in the morning is said to have the same energy and motivation benefits.

And maybe motivation isn’t your problem. Perhaps your memory is always failing you. Well, there are easy memory techniques dating back two-thousand years that allow London cabbies to sear 25,000 streets into their heads and World Champion Mnemonists to memorize tens-of-thousands of digits of Pi.

As Joshua Foer explains in Moonwalking with Einstein, the secret to memorization isn’t being born with a “photographic” memory…it’s about creating memory palaces.

Essentially, memory palaces are familiar locations you can fill with visual representations of whatever you are memorizing. Instead of forcing lists of words into your head by saying them over and over again, memory palaces transform your To-do list into an eventful walk through your household. Don’t believe me? Let Josh show you how to memorize the first 100 digits of Pi.

So, what’s the biological secret to creativity?

Idle time. A 2014 study found that bored people were more likely to have “divergent thinking styles” – coming up with creative ideas.

Increasing your creativity means carving out time to lay in the grass and look up at the clouds – putting your technology away and embracing the boredom.

A friend once told me you can’t overcome writer’s block by distracting yourself. You just have to write through it.

This speaks volumes for many of life’s struggles.

Easy isn’t Always Rewarding

There will always be shortcuts that eliminate the hardships of solving problems. However, you’ll find that shortcuts are far less rewarding because you cheat yourself of the journey.

Amelia Earhart agreed, “You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Reframing success as learning allows you to enjoy the process and not depend on the “solution” for gratification.

There will always be get-rich or get-fit quick promises out there. And they will be tempting. But, the real achievement isn’t even the achievement itself. It’s the pursuit of the achievement.

Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s Quick Theories.

If you are itching to express your thoughts on brain enhancement, Nootropics, and smart drugs, I’d love to hear your thoughts (reply directly to this).

Creating a Limitless Existence with Transhuman Technology

Have you ever heard something so absurdly crazy that you get that clenching knot in your stomach, fearing it’s actually true? Well, hold onto your lunch because transhumanism and transhuman technology tip-toes on the very principles of our existence.

In other words, only read on if you strong-minded.

Grasping Evolution

Transhumanism is the belief that technology can be used to liberate the human body from its natural limitations. In other words, they want to take control of natural evolution, thus reprogramming our future.

Futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Stephen Hawking have popularized the transhuman mentality by foreshadowing a future of indefinite lifespans, downloadable memories, and interplanetary travel.

And while these things seem like ultimatums we must decide on today…they aren’t. In fact, they are narratives that have gone on for the last century.

Russian cosmism was a belief system by Nikolai Fyodorov that advocated physical immortality, space exploration, and resurrecting the dead through science. It was the 1906 version of transhumanism.

During middle school history class, I remember hearing about Walt Disney being frozen beneath Disney World, with the hope of being brought back to life in the future.

No coincidence here, cryonics was first told in The Jameson Satellite, a short story from 1931 (thirty years before Walt passed away).

Four years ago, Google’s in-house futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted we’d achieve digital immortality, through mind-uploading, by 2045.

Hmmm. Oddly familiar to Jerry Sohl’s The Altered Ego in which a man is able to make a digital duplicate of his mind and access it after his death…published in 1954.

What’s the difference now? Why are Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk feuding over the urgency of Artificial Superintelligence? Why was there a transhumanist presidential candidate?

Most likely, it’s because transhuman technology may finally be catching up to these fictions.

Tracing Transhuman Technology

These fictional stories of the 20th century inspired the youth to experiment – to see if their favorite sci-fi’s were plausible.

Yes, I’m saying that science is inspired by fiction. Or maybe it’s inspired by the desire to disprove fictions?

One of these inspired individuals is Aubrey de Grey – a biogerontologist focused on gene therapy. Essentially, the goal is to replace bad genes with good genes, thus manipulating our genetic code and eliminating our inefficiencies.

Aubrey’s research program, SENS, has various prescriptions for the use of gene therapy that within a couple decades could improve anti-aging gene therapy to the point of indefinite lifespans.

Perhaps someone you are more familiar with is Elon Musk and his transhuman technology: Neuralink. Neuralink is a brain-computer interface that essentially brings the computing power of your MacBook right inside your head.

Ultimately, they want to merge the human brain with Artificial General Intelligence, so we don’t fall behind the machines which we’ve built.

Personally, when I learn about these transhuman technology projects, I get the impression I have to decide today whether I want to live forever or be mortal. When in reality, there will be many stepping stones.

For instance, the first stepping stone might be implanting a microchip in your hand, like a company in rural Wisconsin is doing to their employees.

Three Square Market is giving employees an option to implant RFID chips in their hand to allow them to more easily make purchases in their break room, open doors, use copy machines, log into computers, unlock phones, and more.

If this frightens you, not to worry. Nobody is forcing you to become a transhuman. It’s just a philosophy that is seeing the light of day.

Transhumanism in Perspective

When I think of transhumanist thought leaders, I always imagine they hate humanity. That they wish people were better at life and less human.

But, then I remember that transhumanist thinkers are no different than you or I. Driven by fear and inspired by opportunity.

Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, a transhumanist philosopher, feared that he wouldn’t live to be 100 years old. So, he changed his name to FM-2030, started advocating transhumanism, and had his body cryogenically frozen at age 69.

Elon Musk fears technology and its rise to power. That’s why he wants us to merge our brains with AI, while also colonizing Mars. In case AI goes rogue on Earth.

For many transhumanists,  their purpose is to further the progress of transhuman technology. We all have fears and we all have different ways of coping with those fears.

I’m not sure what I fear more: dying before I’ve accomplished all my goals, or living forever and running out of goals.

Eventually, if transhumanism goes according to plan, I’ll have to face one of these fears head on.

“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.” – Sammy Davis Jr.

Fear shouldn’t consume your day, but rather it should inspire you to take your commitments more seriously. Take a deep breath, remember you are alive and put your heart into what you love to do.

Hopefully, this post didn’t knot your stomach too much. I’m glad you took the time to read this week’s Quick Theories.

I’d love to hear what you think of transhumanism, the people behind it, and maybe even a prediction of your own. You can reply directly to this email.

The Not-So-Lonely Future of TV

Families and friends don’t get together to watch their favorite shows like they used to. In fact, the Future of TV seems like it’ll be a one-to-one experience (one screen, one person). But, this isn’t actually the case. The Future of TV involves larger communities…digital communities to be specific.

So, how did we get to this awkward transition of entertainment?

Taking Turns in Entertainment

When the silver screen was replaced by the TV in the 1950s, movie ticket sales plummeted over the next decade from 25 to 4 tickets per person per year.

Today, the TV is being replaced by the mobile phone, with 39% of TV users canceling or downgrading their paid-TV subscription in the past year alone.

It is clear that entertainment is now expected to be ready when the user is ready, not on some programming schedule. Entertainment has transformed from a special event to a daily ritual – squeezed into every free minute of our days.

Because of this, we’ve lost the communal factor of entertainment.

One day this winter I looked around my apartment and realized six people were watching six different Netflix programs on their laptops.

Netflix and YouTube have given us the opportunity to watch what we want, when we want, at the cost of watching with other people.

Undoubtedly, though, being entertained alone isn’t nearly as fun. Laughing to yourself, explaining a theory you have on a show to an empty room…not the best experience.

There’s still a part of us as humans driving us toward a sense of community and belonging.

Which is why the Future of TV is still being created. Surprisingly, the gaming industry is setting the example.

The Digital Communities of Gaming

Playing video games is usually pegged as an anti-social activity. My mom always used to tell me to get off the game and go play with friends. But, the recent rise of the video-game streaming platform, Twitch, has broken down all stigmas and made playing video games a social event.

Every day, 10 million people log onto Twitch to watch their favorite video game players. 10 million! If you’ve never heard of Twitch, this may sound like the most bizarre thing ever, because it is.

In the past, we’ve had digital communities with the sole purpose of socializing (AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook Groups). But, Twitch is showing us what it means to create digital communities around entertainment – just like movie theaters once did.

Twitch’s digital communities want to be entertained, and they want to be entertained alongside hundreds or thousands of people just like themselves.

So, why doesn’t TV adopt this communal viewing aspect?

Well, there is a Chrome Extension called Showgoers, which allows you to watch Netflix remotely with friends and family. But, it’s nowhere near the hit that Twitch is.

That’s because the secret behind Twitch’s success is the video game players themselves. The average daily Twitch viewer watches 106 minutes of content in a day because they fall in love with the star gamers.

My roommates happen to be one of those star gamers. Every night between 8pm and 3am he plays video games for an audience of 2,000-10,000 people. Some of the more popular gamers corral upwards of 200,000 live viewers.

Now tell me those numbers don’t resemble the early followings of a Bill Maher, Greg Gumbel, Jim Cramer, etc…

So, what can the Future of TV learn from these unconventional digital communities?

The Future of TV Needs to Learn

Twitch is raw, uncut, and authentic. Vastly different from the uptight, micromanaged performance of TV. This freedom of expression is what allows people, not brands, to grow massive audiences on Twitch.

Further, Twitch stars have the ability to talk with their followers and build trust. At times, my roommate knows more about what’s going on in his community’s lives than he does mine.

This trust coerces followers to give donations and support their entertainers.

The Future of TV is trending away from massive production costs and highly polished product. Viewers want REAL people with REAL stories that they can trust.

Disney, Time Warner, Turner, and others created high barriers to entry in the TV industry and now it’s coming around to bite them in the “you know what”.

Digital communities trust people over brands and you are embodying this fact by reading this article.

Incumbent entertainment and media companies can either go down with their sinking ship. Or, they can find a way to empower independent content creators and embrace this democratization of entertainment.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, it’s the decade of the independent content creator. And all forms of media are up for grabs.

Nothing to Lose

The late great novelist, James Baldwin, once said, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the [man] who has nothing to lose.”

Those with nothing to lose can hide in the shadows, work swiftly without disruption, and pop-out from the shadows by taking the biggest risks.

And it’s not just about having nothing to economically lose.

Having nothing to lose is a mindset. It’s a mindset that inspires you to take action when others would shy away. Kind of like how Warren Buffett says to be greedy with investing when others are fearful.

Rewiring our brains to pretend we have nothing to lose is the courage boost we need to act against our cautions.

However, there’s a proper balance of the nothing to lose mindset, which you must find through experience.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, good or bad, on this week’s Quick Theories. You can reply directly to this email.

Fighting Bankruptcy and Boredom with Surveillance Cameras

Soon, there will be more surveillance cameras on the street than there are pairs of eyes! Algorithms are being put in place that turns these into smart cameras – making high-level analyses of your life.

Here’s how surveillance cameras get to that stage of life analysis.

Surveillance Cameras in the Cloud

In 2014, there were over 245 million active surveillance cameras worldwide, and that number has increased by 13.7% annually the past three years. Just this year, I watched my city install cameras on every major street corner.

Amcrest, one of the companies leading this surveillance revolution, makes it possible with affordable, robust surveillance options. Most importantly, though, they are beginning to store all of their video data in the cloud.

Once the data is in the cloud, algorithms can be applied to the video data and insights can be discovered.

“Insights” is a very broad term, between you and me, and that’s the way the U.S. Government wants to keep it.

I’d like to think that they will only use this technology to alert authorities when a crime is in progress as evidence. But in reality, they’ll use this technology to track people across a city, or even the country.

Surveillance cameras are gaining a new skill known as computer vision, where essentially, cameras have “brains” that can determine insights from video…just like a human, except at massive scale.

With computer vision, surveillance cameras become smart cameras and will take on a whole new role our lives.

Smart Cameras At Home

While most of us don’t have cameras surrounding our house, consumer products are making the transition naturally. Products such as the Echo Look, Smart TVs, and even refrigerators come equipped with camera sensors.

Eventually, all these household cameras work in unison – creating a real-time, 3D map of the living space.

The house knows when I’m getting my midnight snack.

This surveillance system understands my daily schedule. When I don’t walk past my camera in the kitchen by 7:00 am, it knows I overslept and signals my alarm.

It will watch all my visitors. Whenever my mom is over, the surveillance cameras notice she constantly looks at the digital art frame on my wall. Well, I guess I found a good Christmas gift for her.

Lastly, the system recognizes inefficiencies in my living room layout and makes suggestions on how to rearrange my couch for better Feng Shui within my apartment.

These scenarios all seem futuristic and impossible, but they aren’t too far away.

Honestly, I understand the apprehension you would have with putting video cameras all around your house to analyze your life. Personally, I installed a few and was a little creeped out myself.

That’s why the main application of these smart cameras is in the commercial space.

In-store Video Analytics

Just this past year, JCPenney and Macy’s collectively closed hundreds of stores, while Sears has “substantial doubt” they can survive.

Brick-and-mortar stores need to optimize their in-store experiences. The best way to do so is with smart cameras.

Imagine if Wal-Mart had smart cameras that documented every item you stopped to look at, how long you looked at it, and whether you chose to buy it or not. Matching this with some basic facial recognition software would allow them to store individual customer data.

So, now Wal-Mart knows I need a pair of swim trunks but didn’t find the color I liked. They also know that I intended to go straight to the electronics (based on my walking path), but got stuck in the candy aisle…briefly.

Physical shopping data is valuable because it makes owners question a better store layout.

Most stores have analog cameras for security. But the future of surveillance cameras lies in using them to learn consumer behavior.

Of course, all this talk about surveillance brings up the issue of privacy, since no one wants a camera analyzing their every move without giving consent. Unfortunately, most advertisers and corporate behemoths operate under “rather ask for forgiveness than permission”.

Although we may never avoid the omnipresent camera, we can control how to behave with a camera in our hands.

Stop comparing pictures

So much of our lives is spent looking at others, pointing the camera elsewhere to compare with ourselves. However, when taking that selfie and we don’t like what we see, it’s not because of what’s in the picture. It’s because of what’s not in the picture.

The comparison with someone “better” is what gets us down.

And I’m not just talking about external appearances. This goes for all forms of comparison.

Every time we make a comparison it’s like playing Russian Roulette with our emotions – never knowing how we’ll perceive the comparison.

Eliminate the urge to compare. It sounds silly, but I promise that you’ll find more time to focus on your own improvement.

If you enjoyed this week’s Quick Theories, I’d greatly appreciate if you shared it on social media!