(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
In the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, there is a memorable scene that is highly relevant today. As Dorothy and her friends are seeking an audience with the self-proclaimed “great and powerful Wizard of Oz”, they are cowed and awed by the majestic figure they meet when they finally get an audience to meet the Wizard. A towering, larger-than-life, overwhelming figure, complete with swirling clouds, thunderclaps, and lightning to emphasize his every bellowed word, they are about to slink away. But Dorothy’s little dog Toto runs to the side and pulls open a curtain to reveal a small, nervous, and insignificant old man working feverishly at controls of what would today be called a marketing plan. Toto has revealed a phony, a charlatan who has deceived the public into believing he is indeed a powerful wizard. He used the smoke and mirrors to maintain the façade he had created for tricking the weak and gullible. His next line says it all. In a last, desperate attempt to intimidate and mislead, the little man has the towering image scream, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” But by that point, his deception was obvious and irrefutable. The rest is movie history.
Sadly, the Wizard and his ilk are still with us today.
I need accurate information that will allow me to make good, informed decisions. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were facing some simple but very important questions about our technology-based, increasingly interconnected world: Who can I trust? Who can I believe? When I see a public figure, what part is the real person and what part is the professionally shaped image created for public appearances? Who can I depend upon to provide me with honest, unbiased, accurate information?
The current pandemic, with its 24/7 media coverage, is a good example. Detailed information about the pandemic has a deplorable signal-to-noise ratio. For every nugget of truth, you must wade through a flood of self-serving, wild-eyed, conspiracy theory-based misinformation. This situation is comparable to the old-fashioned “lip radio” of a simpler era when the stranger next to you on the bus or in the checkout lane at the supermarket was foisting some absurd story on you. Digital or F2F interaction, the problem remains unchanged: determining what is the nugget of truth and what is the flotsam and jetsam. (It’s a lot like dating, if I remember correctly.)
According to internetworldstats.com, as of January 2020, there were 4.5 billion people around the world with internet access; that’s 58% of the world’s population… and the number is growing rapidly. On a personal level, the new technology allows individuals to connect easily and instantly with other members of the internet community. Yes, despite its appalling amounts of social fluff, refrigerator door-level art, deliberate or unintentional misinformation, and criminal predators, the advent of social media has brought vast improvements in connecting with others who are worth connecting with.
The Good News: It is now possible to effectively deal with Einstein’s lament that, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”
You don’t have to be a genius on Einstein’s scale to feel different, misunderstood, and unappreciated. How comforting it is, even if you happen to live in a remote, sparsely populated area, to find digital comrades who can understand you and share common interests with you. These connections provide warm reassurance and support on the coldest of psychic mornings. With a little time spent searching, it is possible to find others among the 4.5 billion currently online who can truly understand, regardless of any physical distance separating you. “Twelve miles from the nearest lemon” and “a lonely Greek in a world of Philistines” were colorful past descriptions of this feeling of isolation and removal from others with a similar bent. Such connections are especially precious in this current pandemic while we are dealing with so much uncertainty and loss.
But an even larger social change has come from the transparency made possible by this technology…
Bad Guys (and Gals) beware: Every time you lie, cheat, bully, or do anything unethical or secretive – resume stuffing or making outrageous claims about your car, chest measurements, income, or marital status – you should remember that most of the people around you have a video camera in their pocket, combined with internet access. Declaim at your peril. In moments, those bystanders can go online and debunk your wildest brags. Next, they can send a video to various social media sites for the whole internet universe to see you being a jackass, crook, philanderer, charlatan, or hypocrite – plus anything digital is now permanent and public, so it’s available forever. Even the most dishonest, unethical, impulsive, and sociopathic individuals will eventually learn to restrain themselves when they realize they are being observed and will be held accountable.
But, wait, that’s still only the beginning…
Dating back to the 1970s, Moore’s Law predicted with eerie accuracy that computer processing speeds would double every two years. Today, we are enjoying the many benefits and new lifestyle this exponential increase in computing power has enabled. Indeed, many of us are carrying around a powerful computer in our pocket which was unavailable to even the richest and most powerful people a scant generation ago.
That’s today. Now, get ready for exponential growth that will bring even greater changes even faster. The imminent arrival of AI (Artificial Intelligence) will open the door for a quantum lifestyle leap with its accompanying social changes and new expectations. The introduction of AI enhancements to that computer we already have in our pocket will create reverberations which will make the previously cited developments look primitive.
Imagine what the world would look like if you had a trusted, clever assistant who was impervious to bribery and blackmail, undue influence by social pressure or shifting fads, and who knew your history and preferences. When it fully arrives, the ability of such an AI “assistant” to access all the information available online – and to do it in real-time – will revolutionize our world. Can you visualize the impact on your decision-making process if you could simply say: Seri, is that statement true? Alexa, what was this person doing last year at this time? Cortina, which news source is presenting science-based facts, not sensational claims which are based solely on wild speculation or unrealistic hopes? Alexa, check online and tell me if I can trust this person.
Or, ultimately: Seri, knowing me as you do, which is the best choice for me?
In a fascinating but quite lengthy article, the website waitbutwhy.com presented an overview of the impact AI will have on life in the coming years. (After finishing this article, I urge you to check it out: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html.) More to the point, they introduce the concept that we have reached the critical mass needed for the changes to occur much faster than ever before. Instead of the familiar gradual upward slope, the futurists are telling us to prepare ourselves for huge changes that are going to be coming faster and faster. Even without the death and devastation – and opportunities – generated by the Covid-19 crisis, life as we know it will be altered beyond recognition by AI.
Yes, there will still be room for the Luddites, but they will be treated as a kind of quaint subspecies whom we can tolerate but who cannot be fully integrated into the larger society – like those rare groups which still have horses instead of cars. Imagine an elderly Aunt Tilly who refuses to allow electricity in her home because she believes those clever little electrons will slip out from the outlets at night and shock her as she sleeps. We can allow Aunt Tilly to keep her silly ideas; no need to argue with her. However, we are unlikely to agree when Aunt Tilly tells us that we also need to live without electricity in our homes.
In particular, when you read the waitbutwhy.com article, note the diagram which shows what most people think the future will look like – a gentle, upward slope with a rate of change we can tolerate. Now, compare this against their prediction of an AI-boosted sudden uptick of powerful new capabilities. No, you won’t have to accept AI as it is unveiled but, by refusing to accommodate to the changes, you become another Aunt Tilly. You will be rejecting a quality of life and standard of living that will make our current lifestyle comparable to living in a cave with no amenities to soften those hard rock walls which compose your tiny world.
We are entering a new era. From today’s vantage point, we cannot see where we will be going in the coming years – or how fast those changes will occur. But occur they will. Buckle up, folks. There may be some surprises, abuses, and fearful bumps ahead but, at the end of the journey, our lives will be significantly better. It will be well worth any trouble and uncertainty during the process.
We are at a critical mass in our cultural and technological development comparable to the discovery of fire, the wheel, and cooking. The introduction of new technical marvels will allow us to vastly improve both our standard of living and our quality of life.
The Covid-19 pandemic – dreadful as it is – may contain a hidden blessing. Today, in a spasm of karmic irony, we suddenly find ourselves unexpectedly free from the prison of past conventions and limits – because many of them are no longer viable. In the midst of the carnage and pain, we have been granted the opportunity to reinvent our lives in new directions we haven’t even identified yet. Let’s hope we are wise enough to grasp this moment in time for the precious jewel it is.
If you choose to continue living as we did in the old era – where you trusted people because of their appearance or their glib way of talking or a lavish marketing budget – you have that right. But don’t be surprised when the rest of society moves away from you to a vastly superior model of getting information and making decisions. AI will provide us with the trustworthy information needed. AI to the rescue!
在经典的电影《绿野仙踪》中，有一个令人难忘的场景，在今天看来具有很强的现实意义。当多萝西和她的朋友们在寻找自称 “伟大而强大的绿野仙踪 “的观众时，当他们终于有了一个观众见到绿野仙踪的时候，他们被眼前这个威严的身影所震撼，也被吓了一跳。一个高耸的、比生命还高大的、压倒性的人物，用旋转的云层、雷电和闪电来强调他的每一句话，让他们快要溜走了。但桃乐丝的小狗托托托跑到一边，拉开窗帘，露出了一个身材矮小、紧张、无足轻重的老人，正在疯狂地控制着今天所谓的营销计划。多多揭穿了一个骗子，一个欺骗大众的骗子，让大众相信他确实是一个强大的魔法师。他用烟雾和镜子来维持他为欺骗弱者和易受骗的人而制造的假象。他的下一句话就说明了一切。在最后一次不顾一切的恐吓和误导中，小人物让高耸入云的形象大喊：”别理睬幕后的人！” 但到了那个时候，他的欺骗已经很明显，无可辩驳。剩下的就是电影史了。
你不一定要成为爱因斯坦的天才，也不一定要成为爱因斯坦的天才，就会觉得自己与众不同，被人误解，不被人欣赏。即使你碰巧住在人烟稀少的偏远地区，找到能理解你、与你有共同兴趣的数字同志，是多么令人欣慰的事情。这些人脉，在最寒冷的心灵早晨，都能给人以温暖的安慰和支持。只要花一点时间去寻找，就有可能在目前在线的45亿人中找到真正能理解你的人，无论你们之间的物理距离有多远，都能找到其他人。”离最近的柠檬十二英里 “和 “一个孤独的希腊人在非利士人的世界里 “是过去对这种与他人隔绝和疏远的感觉的丰富多彩的描述。当我们面对如此多的不确定性和失落时，这样的联系在当下的大流行中显得尤为珍贵。
想象一下，如果你有一个值得信赖的、聪明的助手，不受贿赂和勒索，不受社会压力或潮流变化的不正当影响，并且知道你的历史和喜好，那么这个世界会是什么样子。当它完全到来时，这样的人工智能 “助手 “能够在网上获取所有可用的信息–而且是实时的–将彻底改变我们的世界。你能想象一下，如果你能简单的说一句话，对你的决策过程的影响吗？Seri，这句话是真的吗？Alexa，这个人去年这个时候在做什么？Cortina，哪个新闻源在呈现的是科学的事实，而不是耸人听闻的说法，而这些说法完全是基于胡乱猜测或不切实际的希望？Alexa，上网查一查，告诉我这个人是否可信。