Plans for the future

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question dreaded by pretty much every high school graduate. “I don’t know, go to a good college perhaps?”

“What do you want to do for a living?” The question dreaded by pretty much every college graduate. “I don’t know, go find a good job at a reputable company perhaps?”

“What are your plans for the future?” The question dreaded by pretty much everyone. “I don’t know, go to school, get a degree, find a good job, buy a house/car, get married and have kids, keep working until I retire at whatever-the-retirement-age-is and die a peaceful death perhaps?”

There’s that old saying. Live your own life, not someone else’s. But to live your own life, you have to know what you want. You have to know what kind of life you want to live and that’s often the hardest part. What do you really want? What are your plans for the future?

Until you figure that out, chances are, you will be living someone else’s life. Without knowing where you want to go, it’s impossible to plan how you want to get there. So let me ask you again, what are your plans for the future?

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A higher form of communication

Everyone experiences their own little world inside their head, one full of mental images, sounds, smells, flashbacks, emotions, feelings beyond what words could ever hope to describe, and so on. What if there was a way to directly access someone’s mind and experience what it’s like inside their head?

A form of higher communication that enables two beings to experience what goes inside each other’s mind, the ability to experience one another’s consciousness. A way to communicate by projecting our thoughts and feelings directly into another person.

At the moment, we mainly communicate by utilizing three things, sound, movement, and drawings. Language is our rulebook for mapping various sounds to various meanings. Body language is how we use movements and gestures to supplement our communication by adding nuances that are hard to convey by sounds alone. Drawings, pictures, and symbols are used whenever we want to record something down or illustrate things.

Our most high-def form of communication is face-to-face communication, it’s also the oldest and most ancient form ever, utilizing all three sounds, movements and drawings. As technology advances, we create less and less high-def forms of communication. Things like letter writing, phone calls, and texting. Sure they have other benefits, benefits we would very much appreciate and are grateful for, the only downside is the loss of resolution. Gone are the body language, facial expression, and tone of voice.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could work upwards and achieve a high-def form of communication, one that’s richer than a face-to-face conversation? Namely, the ability to communicate ideas purely by thoughts and emotions. Of course, all this probably sounds like science fiction to you, that’s because it probably is. But then again, it might not be so unrealistic after all.

Amidst all the chaos

I was watching a few last week tonight videos and it expanded my view of the world, mostly on the negative side.

Here’s one on Brexit with its devastating situation and uncertainty for what’s to come.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaBQfSAVt0s

A brief update on the issue of workplace sexual harassment over the past few decades.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHiAls8loz4

An eye-opening overview of what’s going on in China.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OubM8bD9kck

The impact of Facebook in Myanmar these past few years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjPYmEZxACM

And an overview of what’s going on in Venezuela.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYfgvS0FA7U

It is pretty depressing seeing issues like this all over the world. In some ways, it’s as if we’re progressing backward. Granted, life has always been a ‘two steps forward, one step backward’ process but still, we are in the 21st century. You’d think that we, as humans, would’ve progressed beyond that by now?

After watching those videos, I feel extremely grateful that I get to live in a developed country, that I’m well educated and live a comfortable life, and my environment mostly shields me from all the news and depressing events like those above. But amidst all the chaos in the world, the amount is actually shrinking.

If you think about it, the whole world is like a giant stock market. Over the short term, it fluctuates up and down a lot, it crashes every now and then, recovers and jumps back up on its own two feet afterward, and repeat. But over the long term, we can always see the progress we’ve made.

As a whole, our lives are a lot better now than they were a few decades ago. And that is a good enough reason for me to keep being an optimist.

Humanity’s progress

As a species, we have really come a long way. Our society has advanced beyond our wildest dreams. Since the 1800s, we have invented air travel, sent people to the moon, cured and eradicated a bunch of deadly diseases through medical advances and the discovery of germs, created widespread network connectivity and information free flow through the invention of the internet and cell phone networks, and so on.

That’s on the technological side. On the human side, we have outlawed slavery and human trafficking, developed the concept of human rights, started developing compassion towards other living beings, started recognizing (and legalizing) the LGBT community for their rights and equality, started developing the concept of women’s rights, and so on.

The advances on the technological side are pretty much a given and technology will continue to advance as long as there’s innovation. What’s not so obvious is the advancement of our humanity and the social side of the spectrum. These are a lot more non-obvious and they are also difficult topics most people would rather avoid, controversial stuff best left alone and ignore. Yet, I believe this is something important and should not be overlooked.

Think about life in the 1700s or 1800s when slaves were legal and basic human rights were still being developed. If you were born with dark skin color, there’s a high chance you lived a much harsher life compared to your peers born with a skin color several shades lighter. There’s also a higher chance that you were a slave, which is never a fun thing.

Do you think people in that era were open to talking about slavery, human rights, and discrimination? This is all controversial stuff back then but look at how far we’ve come. We’ve abolished slavery and that’s a huge milestone for us as human beings. We don’t see slavery as something controversial anymore, it’s a given that it should be abolished.

Now imagine all the social issues we still face. Discrimination of racial/ethical minorities, animal cruelty and promoting veganism, women’s rights, and the LGBT social movement. These are issues that we consider to be controversial, issues that not a lot of people are comfortable talking about. But if we don’t talk about these issues and understand them, how else are we going to resolve them?

The only way to resolve these issues is if more and more people started talking about them. When more and more people understand the issue, they will know what it’s like to be discriminated just because of skin color. They will empathize with how women all over the world were treated, they will understand what it’s like living as an LGBT and the constant difficulty in finding acceptance, and they will understand the cruelty in killing billions of farm animals every year just to satisfy our meat consumption demands.

The way to get people to start talking? Remove the feeling of taboo-ness and get people to care about such issues. It’s not easy and I don’t quite know how to do it but I think the first step is to educate ourselves. Know and understand the issues instead of ignoring them. Be aware of what’s going on and start asking the question. No, not at family dinners but have one-on-one conversations with others. Do it slowly, probe them a bit and gauge their initial response. Don’t rush, don’t try to convert people.

Plant the idea in other people’s head and plant lots of idea seeds around you. Most of them will not sprout but if you plant enough seeds, some will eventually sprout. And some of those sprouts will bloom and become a flower. Eventually, there will be enough flowers for society to change.

Recently, I find myself developing an interest in these controversial topics. It’s a problem that needs to be solved and the good news is, we are making progress, humanity is making progress. The world is becoming more and more understanding of such issues.

Like slavery in the 1800s, I believe that humanity will continue to evolve and one day, we will look back at all these issues the same way we look at slavery today. Issues with obvious answers, issues that only our primitive ancestors fought over, issues that humanity have long since overcome and surpassed.

What if we trust AI?

What happens when humanity succeeds in perfecting artificial intelligence? I don’t just mean any artificial intelligence, but artificial general intelligence, strong AI that is capable of problem-solving, reasoning, and maybe even conscious thought, as opposed to weak AI that can only drive cars or beating humans in strategy board games.

There’s a lot of ethics and philosophy involved with AI and it’s a rather tricky subject to tackle. The problem is that humans are terribly afraid of not knowing who to point the finger to.

Take self-driving cars, for example. If every car on the road is a self-driving car, think how many accidents we can prevent, no more distracted drivers, drunk drivers, speed demons, and etc.

Yet, humans want perfection. If self-driving cars caused an accident, who is responsible? The driver? The car manufacturer? The programmer? If a self-driving car had to choose between running over a pedestrian and killing its passenger in a violent car crash, what should it do? Who is responsible for such a decision?

Never mind that self-driving cars reduced accident rates by a huge amount, never mind that they reduced traffic congestion, never mind that they reduced fuel consumption and increased efficiency. If there’s any possibility of an accident and we don’t know who to point the finger to, it’s not worth it.

There’s also a lot of fear involved, humans are afraid of not knowing, of losing control, of AI taking over. How does AI make decisions? Does it have humanity’s best interest at heart? Or does it value Earth and the environment more? What if AI deems humanity as some nuisance that it needs to get rid of for the planet to survive? What if AI treat humans the way humans treat livestock?

Let’s stop for a moment and imagine. You might not like what I’m about to say next but just bear with me for a while. Imagine yourself as an all-powerful AI. You understand humans, their history and all of their deeds and misdeeds. You understand the universe, the far away stars and galaxies, and how insignificant Earth seemed to be in comparison.

You know a lot more about anything than all of humanity combined. Who are they, the humans, to question your decision? They have only their selfish best interest at heart while you have the universe’s best interest. Would it not be better for humans to accept and trust you?

As humans, we might not like the AI’s decision. Yet, should we not learn to trust it? We can’t even begin to comprehend its thoughts, should we see past ourselves and accept that the AI knows best for the universe?

That perhaps we might not have a place in the future, that our evolution has come to an end and we’ve stumbled upon the great filter, that we have created a superintelligent hyper-advanced alien civilization perhaps, one that will continue its existence for millions of years to come.

Perhaps this superintelligence is even capable of creating a simulation of its creators in an attempt to study the evolution of life and the development of intelligence.

How the world changes

Little by little, step by step, something changed. New inventions, new ways of doing things, new laws and policies, new technology, and spec upgrades. Everything changes, bit by bit, every year.

Sometimes, something changed that not everyone is happy with. Give it time, let it persist. Eventually, more and more people will come in terms with it. Slowly but surely, most people will get used to it and forget why they ever complained in the first place.

For the small minority that still won’t embrace it, let this be the birth of a new subculture, a fork in the road, a diversification in choices. If the old way has its merits, it won’t die off so easily.

Change takes time and for better or worse, the world will change. The world has benefitted a lot from change but it isn’t without its own problems. The question is, how will you react to it?


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The fallacy of growth and innovation

As technology develops, it becomes a lot more common for people to have access to basic rights. More and more people now have access to clean water. Clothing is now a commodity that’s available everywhere. Food from around the world can be found in any random supermarket.

What was once expensive is now cheap. That’s the result of growth and innovation, we find better, cheaper and more efficient ways to do something. We commoditize.

Look at where we’re at, we can now 3D print drugs. Factories are lined with robots instead of traditional workers. Self-driving cars are now in development and testing. Artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to remove the need for basic human thinker jobs.

Pretty soon, entire factories will be run by robots. Self-driving cars would revolutionize our transport system. We would no longer need pharmacies as everyone can just print their own medicine from the hospital. There might even be fewer doctors in the future as basic diseases and illnesses can be diagnosed and treated by AI.

Where does this lead us?

The more we commoditize, the harder it gets to earn a living. Prices go down and wages for associated jobs naturally follow. It’s a downward spiral to oblivion. The cheaper you go, the cheaper your competitor goes. Until you reach a point where it becomes difficult to even sustain yourself. At that point, you would just give up and play a different game.

Take doctors for example. Traditionally, you can be a doctor and earn a pretty comfortable salary. Nowadays, you don’t get such comfort unless you specialize in something. A general practitioner is at risk of being commoditized, there’s too many of them and AI is starting to get better and better at diagnosing simple illnesses.

If you aspire to be a doctor in the future, good luck. To earn a good salary, you really need to go deep and specialize in something AI can’t yet accomplish. In the meantime, how would you possibly earn a living if no one is looking to employ a general practitioner? Would you even want to study hard and specialize in something?

You might be inclined to believe that such changes aren’t likely in the near future. That the world of medicine is very cautious and conservative. But would you believe that such changes still aren’t likely in the far future? At our current pace, it would only be a matter of time before the inevitable happens.

Once the medical field is dominated by technology and AI, what will become of us? Would there still be anyone willing to study medicine? Or will AI do all that for us? What will we do with our lives if everything is done by robots?

Would we finally be free to enjoy life as we see fit? Would we finally be able to do whatever we want? How will we get the means to do so? How will we earn money? Or would money become a thing of the past?

Some people have proposed a system called the universal basic income, which is an unconditional income that keeps you above the poverty line. This would prevent automation from introducing poverty after taking away millions of job.

If you think about it, the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier. In the future, technology would be doing such a great job that it makes our lives so easy, there’s nothing to live for. We might not be so far from the world depicted by WALL-E, where everyone lives in virtual reality while being fed nutrients through IV drips to survive.

It’s interesting to think what would happen once AI matures. Would we finally achieve the freedom to live life as we want? Pursue our hobbies, travel and visit new places, hang out and socialize all day? Or would AI rob us of those pleasures? Would we find such activities to be meaningless in the future?

Then there’s the question of whether AI will achieve consciousness. What would happen if it deemed us humans as a waste of space? As nothing more than lazy sloths wasting precious resources? Or would humans be integrated with AI? As in, we would no longer have physical bodies? Or perhaps each human would have its own personalized AI buddy or something and there would be an AI population living in cyberspace, similar to a human population?

Let’s not get carried away and think so far ahead. The problem that’s happening now is the commoditization of jobs and products due to growth and innovation. But perhaps it is worth looking ahead of what other issues we might face once we go past this problem.


Some of my musings on the fallacy of growth and innovation. It’s good food for thought.