Tag Archives | tech

Vanity Fair, Elon Musk, AI, and Frankenstein’s (unexpected) Monster

Vanity Fair magazine recently ran a profile of Elon Musk that focused on the ways that Musk is at odds with other tech gurus about the relative merits of artificial intelligence (AI). Musk, who thinks that A.I. is humanity’s biggest threat, is quoted as saying “sometimes what will happen is a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.”  Musk doesn’t reference it directly, but his fears about a scientist who gets carried away with his work, with disastrous results, perfectly describe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to “penetrate the recesses of nature” leads him to create a human being, which he thinks will become a new species that will “bless him” as the creator. Victor’s creature, as we all know, does not turn out the way Victor expects, and when the creature comes to life one November evening, Victor flees in horror, leaving his creature defenseless and alone—and outside of Victor’s control. Eventually, after the creature learns to read and think, he confronts Victor and demands that Victor make him a female companion. The creature plans to flee with the female to South America, where they will live on nuts and berries and exist in complete harmony with nature. Victor initially agrees to this plan and then changes his mind, fearful that the female creature “might refuse to comply” with the plan. He destroys the female creature, which sends his first creation into a vengeful rage. The final chapters of the novel focus on the battle between man and creation, each trying to destroy the other.

The novel is about the dangers of ambition, yes, and about not realizing the full ramifications of your actions, but ultimately, “Frankenstein’s monster” is not the problem.

At the heart of the novel is what happens when women are neglected and their experiences denied by male ambition. Frankenstein wants to create life all by himself, without women; he cannot bear the thought that the female creature might not “comply” with what men want her to do; and when the creature kills Frankenstein’s bride on their wedding night, it’s because Frankenstein never thought that the monster would bother with anyone else other than him.

Maureen Dowd, who wrote this article, also interviewed a number of other players in the tech world as a way to map the spectrum of attitudes about AI developments.

Here is the infographic that accompanied the article:

 

Notice anything? It’s like Frankenstein talking to himself: apparently only men have opinions about AI, which I guess explains why Dowd’s article only contains interviews with men. Musk talks about other male entrepreneurs, who then talk about Musk, themselves, and each other. It’s a giant reflecting mirror of men talking about their accomplishments—past, present, and future.

And yet, as Heather Roff pointed out in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, as developments in AI continue, no one seems to be asking key questions: “Are there abuses of power? What is the value happening here? Why are we doing this? Who is subordinate? And who is in charge?” Questions like these are embedded in feminist theories but I’m going to bet that none of the guys on that infographic are very well versed in the writings of Donna Haraway or bell hooks.

The men in Dowd’s article are terrifically accomplished, there’s no doubt, but they (and we) should take a lesson from Mary Shelley and her nineteenth-century nightmare: when you leave women out of the equation(s), the results are disastrous.

 

 

 

Infographic credit

 

Continue Reading · on April 28, 2017 in Children, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics, tech life

Techambivalent

Let me say first that I have a bit of an internet obsession. I stay way too connected to faraway friends on Facebook and I am a too frequent visitor to Tom and Lorenzo. My books float through the ether from Amazon and land in my kindle, like Mike Teevee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but without remaining pocket-sized.

I tell you these things so that you’ll see my tech ambivalence: I love the internet and I am also sure that we’re going to end up (or we already are) utterly co-opted by it, so much so that any complaints about “loss of privacy” are utterly besides the point.

That ambivalence is the subject of this week’s column in The National, which you can read here.

Through a series of coincidences, the great god google recently unearthed some vintage family photos, which is making me feel quite fond of the machine that is eroding my private life (apparently with my permission).

It found me riding a bicycle; I remember both bicycle and dress (red velvety corduroy), but I have no memory of being so dangerously close to flashing people as I pedaled. red_bike_Wilmette

And google also showed me this picture of my younger brother, now a Hollywood bigshot but at the time apparently planning on a career as a landscaper: backyard

If google can find that level of adorableness for you, how can you not love it?

Continue Reading · on June 17, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, Children, family, tech life, The National

Trying to talk to a Teenager…

I write for a great blog called WorldMomsBlog, which brings together writers from around the globe to talk about life in their part of the world. Sometimes, as you might imagine, events and issues are culturally specific but more often than not, there are shared connections, sometimes in unexpected places.

My post for WMB last week is one of those universal things, I think, at least for parents in relatively developed societies: the moment when your adorable baby becomes an adolescent with a gadget of some sort apparently surgically attached to his or her ear. Weirdly, that device–used for communication–seems to be making it harder and harder to communicate with each other: Forget Esperanto, Does Anyone Speak Teenager?

Continue Reading · on February 15, 2016 in Children, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting, tech life, World Moms Blog

in which I try to buy a new phone: phase two

 To recap: iPhone iFell to the iCement, screen smashed, time to replace phone lest shards of glass eat their way into my eardrums. I take myself to the Etisalat kiosk to buy a new phone.

I am pleasantly surprised that there is no line.  The nice woman at the counter nods as I say I want a new phone and she types in my phone number.

No ma’am, that is a business number. We cannot give you a new phone.

But I’ve been paying the bills on this phone for a year and I bought this phone, right here at this counter. So can’t I just buy a new phone, with the same number?

No ma’am, so sorry, this phone is registered to the business, so we cannot sell to you without authorization from them.

Okay, what if I got a new number and just paid for it myself, without the business.

Ma’am you are already having a land-line or Etisalat account in your own name for six months?

Well, no, but you can see that I’ve been paying the bills on this current number for a year.

No ma’am, that will not work. You need to have an account in your name already for six months, ma’am. Is the new rules for the 5, ma’am.

Okay, okay, so fine, I won’t get a 5 right now, but I need to replace this phone. I’ll just get the 4s and replace this broken phone.

No, ma’am we don’t have the 4s in stock ma’am. Only the 5. You need a letter, ma’am, from your employer, saying that it is okay for you to switch this number to your own name and then we can give you the 5, ma’am.

[Please note that I have not yet raised my voice, throttled anyone, or thrown anything. I am telling myself that it is not the counter-person’s fault that I can’t just BUY.A.GODDAMN.PHONE]

I left the kiosk, emailed two different people in business services and human resources to explain that I needed a permission slip to buy a new phone. When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi, lo these many months ago, we got little Nokia phones that were already switched on and ready to use, a fact that I appreciate way more now than I did then. That phone number migrated with me to the 4s that I bought (with no permission slips) last year.

Approximately fourteen emails later, a wonderful woman in HR issued a stamped, signed, very official letter giving me permission to have full control over “my” phone.

The next day I went back to the kiosk, official letter in hand, sure that I would be leaving the mall with my new phone. Two different people were working at the kiosk, but hey, that shouldn’t be a problem, right? I mean, I had an official letter, stamped and on letterhead, with signatures and serial numbers. What could go wrong?

See earlier on bwhahahahaha…what could go wrong, indeed?

Ma’am you want to switch this number to your own name? You have been having an Etisalat account already in your name, a land-line or TV or something?

No, I say, but I have a letter here saying that I can switch this phone to my name.

No, ma’am, not without a pre-existing account, ma’am. I will verify with my supervisor, just a moment ma’am.

I decide there are few things more frustrating than confronting a bureaucracy where many of the decisions are conducted in a language you don’t know.  The man returns to the counter, deeply saddened, I can tell, by the news he is about to deliver.

No, ma’am, we cannot switch this phone to your name. You could maybe have a new number but only with the pre-existing account, ma’am.

Okay. Fine. Let’s just keep this number in the company name and I’ll get a new phone.

You need a letter to buy the new phone ma’am. From your employer.

You have a letter right here, saying I can switch this number to my name. Isn’t that pretty much the same thing?  It’s what I was told yesterday. And a year ago, I bought this phone right here, at this counter, with no permission from my employer  [it’s possible I may have shaken my smashed phone just the eensiest bit in his direction].

The man frowns, types something into the computer, looks up at me. No, ma’am that is impossible, a mistake. You should not have bought that phone here.

Yes but I did buy this phone here and now I want to replace it.

No, ma’am, I am sorry but you need a letter saying that it is all right for you to buy the new phone. And with that letter ma’am, then you can buy the new phone and keep your number.

You’re saying there’s really no way to migrate this number to my own account?

The man looks devastated, truly regretting what he is about to say. No, ma’am. There is no way. You need a letter to get the new phone with this number.

So if I come back here with a letter saying I can get a new phone, then we can just take care of this upgrade?

No ma’am, I’m so sorry. You will need to go to the main office. We cannot do any of these sorts of business transactions here. Only personal mobile service here, ma’am. Yours is a business number.

 

 

Continue Reading · on January 30, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, tech life

in which I try to buy a new phone: phase one

So this happened:

IMG_6332

Did you know the sound of an iPhone screen hitting cement sounds remarkably similar to the sound of eggs cracking?  The lovely marimekko case I have for this phone, which Husband got for me in response to the fit of nostalgia I had in the New York marimekko store, is pretty but like so many pretty things is utterly impractical. Ol’ marimekko should stick to prints & stripes & fantastic housewares because this groovy case? Sucks. There’s no little ridge around the top to prevent the screen from whacking the ground.  And without the little ridgey-bit? Smashety-crackety crack crack.

Props to Apple, though: the screen was smashed but the phone still worked. But I started keeping it first in a baggie and then in an  ill-fitting plastic pouch, out of fear that some tiny shard of glass would work its way into my ear drum. Glass shard phobia led me to think to myself, “self, why not get yourself an iphone 5 because glass & ear canals are an unhappy partnership.”  So myself takes myself to the Etisalat kiosk at one of the malls around here (Etisalat, for those of you not in the know, is the UAE equivalent of Verizon. Or Sprint. Or ATT. Or whatever local branch of hell serves your particular cable needs).

Yep, that’s what I did. I went to the kiosk and got a new phone. End of story.

bwhaahahahaa

Think again, grasshopper.

 

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Continue Reading · on January 30, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, technorati, UAE

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