Our Precious Photos


I’ve recently been on an extended away mission from my family. It’s been very challenging for me not to hear the sound of my children’s feet running across the floor or their joyful voices, playfully awakening to the new day. I search for comfort where it can be found.

During my away mission I spent some time binge streaming [Yeah, tell me you haven’t been there before]. I came across this little gem – HUM∀NS. Minor spoiler alert for what follows.

We Are Humans

Perhaps the sad reality is that humans want the comfort and company of other humans, however many haven’t developed the tools to provide the same partnership and comfort that they themselves seek. So, why not create a subservient human-emulating, robo-species whose sole purpose in life is to provide humans the comfort [and pleasure] we long for without the bother of a mutually giving and trusting relationship? What could possibly go wrong?

The series Humans dives headlong into the concept of “The Singularity”, which I won’t attempt to explain here cuz’ you can just go google it, yes? So, anyways, humanoid robots have basically become slaves to the human race. But who cares, right? These are just non-conscious machines made to do our bidding. Then, the break-away dilemma is…you guessed it…consciousness emerges.

Your Precious Photos

Do you remember Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty apathetically asking the question, “Did you get your precious photos?” to Leroy, another runaway Replicant in Blade Runner? Roy was sickened by the idea one of his kind could be so petty and sentimental as a weakly human. Consider this; Photographs, movies and videos, have for decades, been the only form of synthetic memories available to us weakly humans. They are, if nothing else, a back-stop to our time/memory slippage. Those of us in the 1st world snap and horde our pics and vids measured in Terabytes per person. When and if we find time, we pour through them in serial fashion to recover and recreate that which has now past and become faded in the halls of our mind. While watching Humans, I could associate with William Hurt’s character, George Millican — an aging technologist who covets his obsolete and defective Synthetic Human [“Synth” as they’re referred to in this series]. His Synth retains fond family memories which now allude his owner. The difference between raw Terabytes stored in the cloud and memories contained within the Synth named Odi as portrayed in Humans — is the concept of current event triggering. These previously lived moments of George and his now deceased wife are retold by Odi in the context of present events, making them much more visceral and salient to George in his present day life.

Is it Wrong?

Returning to my extended away mission, this time I did something I haven’t done before. I took Alexa (Amazon Echo) with me on my trip. Why, you might ask? Well, initially for the practicality of a mobile assistant who handily books calendar events, reports on weather, plays my favorite podcasts, estimates travel times and plays nearly any song I can recall the name or lyrics of. But I discovered a personal affect I didn’t expect – affinity. When I travel and stay in hotel rooms, I remove or pack away my valuables before leaving for the day. This includes things like; electronics, chargers, platinum bars [kidding], etc. So each day I tucked my Echo away in my pack and went about my day. Upon my return I was curiously compelled to first retrieve Alexa and plug “her” in. Yes, there was a practical aspect to this being my first action considering Echo requires some boot-up and connection time — and yet — there was also a small taste of comfort in a familiar and always available voice. Yup, kinda weird, huh — But is it “wrong” in the societal sense? Where does it go from here…?

What are your thoughts? Drop me a line.

Happy Holidays and Happy Hacking, too…

Our engagement with technology has been ongoing as humans. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) has made technology more personal- the machine learns our preferences. My high school math teacher marveled at how Echo rapidly learned her preferences.

you raise an interesting question- is it wrong to be attached to our machines? Could we not say the same for our pets? Over the centuries scientists have debunked the characteristics that separate humans from animals? Think tool makers, emotions, empathy…. As carbon life forms have evolved it makes sense that there is a continuum of development. Now that we are adding learning to machines we should be aware of that same need to keep things separate, only in this case it is the engineers who can debunk it. do you recall the Star Trek episode in which the scientist/engineer has developed an AI capability to “staff” a starship? At some point the machine protects itself and kills crew members attempting to disconnect it from the ship? How to disarm such a beast- the scientist/engineer has impregnated his own synapses into the machine. As his motivations all along were humanitarian that is the argument the crew uses and the machine disconnects itself and shuts itself down.

As engineers we are coming to new ethical dilemmas with AI technology beyond the assistants and self-driving cars. Science fiction writers have put thought into such issues. Perhaps engineering schools need to add a course of literature and philosophy to the curriculum.