All posts filed under: Technology

What Will a Future with Androids Among Us Look Like?

What will it be like when we have robot assistants and companions, that we own, that are not human, and yet that activate all of our instinctive empathy toward humans? Shall we have to unlearn this empathy? Or will we account for that empathy by instinctively redefining humanity in terms of behavior without any sense of inner life? And what would that do to us? We live in a wondrous time, in which artificial intelligence is increasingly and impressively a part of our daily lives. As an informed observer, I expect that contemporary techniques will eventually yield humanoid robots that—in professional interactions, casual conversations, and even shallow romantic relationships—will seem persuasively human. That is, even if they do not look quite like us, their movements, appearance, and conversation will evoke from us all the empathy that a three-year-old can bestow on a motionless toy bear and that adults habitually reserve for fellow humans. What we see now is just the beginning. Concerning a future of pervasive and persuasive robots, we must ask two questions: What …

What Social Media Does to Time

Social media feeds present the myth of endless and therefore purposeless time. Twitter is a prime example. Picture the top of a Twitter feed where a new tweet appears, then the next, then the next. If you scroll down, you know what you will find: more tweets. What happens to all those tweets down below? They slip-slide away, into the past: down, down, down. Theoretically, they are all retrievable but with the passage of more and more time, they are each more and more covered over by the mist of movement. Where is the present on social media? It appears that the present is back up on the top of the feed, where new tweets come, passing for an instant as the present thing. That present thing will momentarily become a past thing as a new thing comes over the top. But imagine, if you will, not a single user’s Twitter feed but all Twitter feeds collapsed into one. How quickly does a tweet pass through the present? It is probably just about at the …

The Vast Re-Education Program of the Superbowl Ads

The zeitgeist of any new year can often be distilled by observing the snapshots of commodity culture that Super Bowl ads provide. A cursory survey of this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup includes the usual suspects. We like movies. We like cars. We like movies about cars. We like feeling safe. We like movies about not feeling safe. We like beer. Minus the corn syrup. This read is not wholly inaccurate but it is superficial. It assumes that the content of the ads is merely projecting our cultural interests and desires right back at us. But that is never the whole story. As Marshall McLuhan liked to put it, the content of any medium is the juicy piece of meat that the burglar offers the guard dog before ransacking the house. What are we missing by focusing on the products and gags that the advertisers serve up? We are missing something profound about the medium itself. Or in the case of the late television era, we are missing something profound about the tectonic shift from …