What might smart systems do to our sense and judgement?
I have been experimenting with a cheap Chinese smartwatch for the last three days. My objective:
to observe what these technologies can do to my habits and behaviors.
The smartwatch and its corresponding app are able to perform functions such as: notify activities on my phone, provide date-time, alarm and stopwatch, count and set goals on steps walked, monitor exercise activities, provide my current heart rate, basic weather information, and my sleep data!
I was intrigued with the last one. So, for the last three days/nights, I have been closely following what it tells me about how I slept. It categorizes my sleep time into — light, deep and no sleep.
This morning I woke up at 5:15. I usually wake up at around 6. The first thing I did was look at the watch. And then I was in a doubt as to whether I should sleep for 40 odd minutes more or just get out of bed.
Usually, I determine the answer to that question by observing how drowsy I am or by trying to figure out the time I fell asleep last night or by thinking on what I have immediately to work on. But this morning I did none of that:
I had an impulse to check the phone and see how long I slept.
I remember a stingy thought yelling from somewhere beneath: See how deep you slept, see how long you were awake. Make a decision based on that!
But I restrained myself from checking the phone and decided to get up and note down my writing topic for the day. (It is this).
This is the essence of ‘smart’ technologies. They are supposed to:
a. track and monitor states and activities of the user or the system through sensor,
b. generate data out of them,
c. compare them with whatever and then finally
d. provide informed judgements or act according to that whatever (autonomous).
Take the smart thermostats. They detect the temperature and also whether people are up and active in the house(a), keep track of the preferences and tendencies of temperature adjustments of the user (b), provide efficiency reports (c ), provide what ought to be, auto manage the temperature, schedule (d).
Similar was done by my Chinese smartwatch. It detected sleep by the methods of actigraphy (a), kept the information (b), decided sleep types (c ), told me how I slept (d). Thankfully it didn’t produce signals to make me drowsy or auto turned alarms.
Though this process may not be efficient yet, something got generated and that is what concerns me.
All in all smart devices say:
- WE sense you and your environment
- WE tell you what is happening and what you are doing
- WE tell you what should happen or what you should be doing
- Some of us have begun but one day all of us will be making you do what you should be doing.
Firstly, in regards to sensing, they basically assist our sense organs and sensibility, which they are good at. It is because they sense using their respective sensors without any biasedness, perspective, fear or things that otherwise make us humans sense things wrongly at times.
They sense in the best possible manner in which people have managed to create them. Technical glitches aside, the available data and inter-communicative-network they are involved in allows them to sense effectively.
Secondly, they are ideally supposed to report to us what they sensed and are sensing.
Up to these two factors, I do not see any smartness. They are just good advanced technologies. Good evolutionary developments of technologies used by humans. Sensing and reporting is what all good sense-technologies have been doing. Compasses, Cameras, Microphones, Blood Pressure Readers, Spectroscopies, Barometers, and so on. It is just that good devices and systems integrate all that together.
What I see in the top two factors is dependency. Sensual dependency. As is with all technologies, once they are developed and used profusely, people tend to get dependent on it. The early sundials must have initially raised some concern in regards to people’s sense of time. Similarly, compasses should have done the same to sense of direction, binoculars to vision, microphones to the ability to speak loud, alarms to waking up, etc.
Some technologies sense things that humans naturally can’t, like telescopes, microscopes, barometres. But what is happening today is that sensing technologies are used in things that humans normally sense pretty well. Take grammarly or other ‘correcting’ and ‘suggesting’ word processors and keyboards for instance. We are supposed to have the ability as to be able to sense basic spellings, grammars and words that ought to follow next. Grammarly and suggestive keyboards are guaranteed to take away basic language-sense from people and make them very dependent on their tools. The same is with autonomous vehicles for driving.
Man began his travels by controlling boats, ships, and then moved to mammals and mechanical steerings. Humans generally have good sense of all that. It’s issues can be greatly resolved by appropriate rules and measures. But, this is what these senseless-technology-companies are good at doing: Making us lose our values, culture, sense and skills just so that they can get richer and powerful. They have nothing to lose only to gain — power. Nothing matters to those grunches as Mr. Buckminster would say.
Things which we cannot properly sense, such as, our respiration cycle, heart beats across time, our eye-blinking rate, etc. seems alright and even fun at times but:
We ought to be able to wake up and drive ourselves and figure out by ourselves how we wrote and slept!
Smart emotional sensors followed by thought sensors are sure to be ubiquitous in days to come. While they are going to tell us a few strange things about ourselves, they will devoid us of more sensibility in the wider perspective.
Now, as to the points 3 and 4, this is where these devices get smart. Using the data generated by us and comparing them with the ‘optimal’, ‘efficient’ defined by prevalent standards, they act autonomously and take away our judgement.
Take GPS powered smart-maps. As long as they in real-time tell me where I am and what’s around me they are okay. It’s fun technology (surveillance aside). But once they begin showing optimal routes, they begin judging for me. I should have the ability to look at the map and determine. At times, I may be in an urgency and might have to depend on its determinations for me, but…
As with sensing, any system or technology that takes away from me my basic and rudimentary judgemental abilities, I should try to avoid. One thing always leads to another, hence, once I start, I will get dependent in no time. It is for me to decide what abilities I want.
For me this is the greatest threat from Artificial Intelligence Systems. We become extremely dependent on them and cease to perform functions which we should be performing ourselves.
When I try to be for these sensual-judge-technologies, I fail to see in what way they might free my senses and mind apart from the one that says, time is being saved. The others tend to argue that our minds then are free to be creative. How might I get creative if I lose even the basic sense of my sleepiness or feelings! What should I be doing if everything else is automated? Sleeping?
All this might lead to a point where people will be completely dependent on such systems for all types of sense and judgement. This will lead to — control the device to control the person.
At least today we can somewhat sense around and go Ummm when we are to decide…
What will happen to Umm…tomorrow?
As to the ones who create them:
Anyone who starts a technology company with the intention to make money and become powerful cares for nothing else. Ask them!