10 Ridiculous Things We’re Trying to Accomplish With Technology
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 30 September 2016.
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 30 September 2016.
Today we live in an increasingly digital and technological society. While it’s certainly good to continue to build on our knowledge, create things that continue to improve our world, and make our lives easier in the process, not all technology is necessarily good. Many people jump to the latest technology or companies will spend billions on a new idea, just because it sounds cool, because they can, without wondering for a moment if they actually should.
While mistakenly using technology doesn’t necessarily have drastic consequences, it is often completely unnecessary and at best a huge waste of time and money. As any good computer scientists will tell you, there are some problems that it is simply not a good idea to attempt to solve with computers. And sometimes, when you try to solve problems the wrong way, you actually create even more issues than you sought to fix in the first place.
10. Self Driving Cars And Their Consequences
One of the exciting new technologies being worked on by Google and now many other companies who have decided to get in on the action early, are self driving cars. The self driving car is supposed to be beneficial because it could help disabled people who cannot drive get around, and also because it would - ideally - ensure that distracted driving was a thing of the past. However, despite the pros, the company’s testing them have struggled to get approvals. In California where google does most of their testing, the approvals came with the caveat that there still always had to be a licensed driver at the wheel who was paying attention and could take over if needed.
This brings up the question of how they should function, and the entire thing is a huge legal and moral quagmire. Some legislators are unsure if cars should be allowed to be both self driving and driveable, or if cars should only come one way or the other, to make it easier to properly enforce rules and safety regulations.
They are also concerned about how it would be programmed in terms of risk evaluation. Whether through the fault of the car or another car or however it happened, if a situation should occur where the computer is in control, and danger is apparent, it has to decide how to make decisions. Most humans would instinctively make the decision that would protect themselves, but some lawmakers think the car should be designed to take the course of action that protects the most lives, even if it kills the driver. While this stance may make sense morally, it may make it unlikely to get people to drive them.
9. Trying To Come Up With Algorithms With Which To Predict The Future Of Mankind
Predicting the future is something that humans have been trying to do for about as long as history goes back. From rulers to normal citizens, and from rich to those of little means, people have sought to divine the future of themselves and the world around them in the hopes of somehow influencing it to better their fate. In more enlightened times beliefs in fortune telling and astrology have mostly waned, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some people who are still obsessed with knowing what will happen ahead of time.
There are multiple projects throughout the world with the aim of putting together banks of supercomputers who will comb data at incredibly high speeds and extrapolate the likely future of mankind. However, while there is the odd supercomputer out there, they are usually dedicated to more important tasks. Those trying to predict the future have been trying to come up with predictive models in bizarre ways.
One group has been trying to teach a computer to predict future human behavior by watching videos, namely, videos of American television shows like The Big Bang Theory and America’s remake of the popular UK show The Office. The computer was able to predict the actions coming with 43% accuracy, which is fairly interesting, but it doesn’t really mean it is good at predicting real human behavior. TV shows follow a formulaic pattern that a computer program shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting. However, real life has way more variable and is way more random and unpredictable.
8. Achieve Immortality Through Whatever Means Necessary
People throughout the ages have been obsessed with trying to become immortal. Tales tells of those who went on lifelong quests, wasting the life they could have been enjoying in the attempt to get as many lives as they could possibly ever want. It is likely some of these were morality tales about enjoying what you have, but some people will never stop obsessing over the idea.
As we have mentioned before, some people are studying the Benjamin Button Jellyfish in the hopes of uncovering how it can turn itself back into an embryo to heal, but that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our attempts to make ourselves immortal. Scientists have been studying everything from cloning people and transferring consciousness, to just cloning and replacing whichever organs fail, to every possible angle of stem cells and now many different nano particles as well.
These studies have so far helped prolonged life but not brought anyone closer to true immortality. The truth is that immortality would have bad consequences for the entire world. In order for the natural ecosystem to work properly, people need to naturally die. The world can’t exactly be overpopulated, but it can reach a point where it cannot sustain enough food and water for everyone. If this were to happen, people would start to die, immortal or not. Just because you can’t die from disease, injury or old age doesn’t mean you could not starve to death.
7. Touchscreens Have Set Us Back In Terms Of Interfacing With Technology
In many futuristic movies going back to the ’80s and perhaps further, using touchscreen technology was one of the main ways to show that your movie was set in a much different time. This is one of those cases where technology basically became a self fulfilling prophecy, even though it made no sense at all. People were inspired by all these movies and geeks started inventing and heavily marketing touchscreen smartphones and then tablets. Before long finding a smartphone with a keyboard was almost impossible, and Windows even tried to implement touchscreens on some of their laptops - a project that failed miserably.
Touchscreens lead to an incredible amount of autocorrect failures and time spent trying to re-type messages. Dozens of typing apps have been designed to help people type properly on a device that is now incredibly terrible for typing, despite that being one of its main purposes. These interfaces are now appearing in many more places, and usually cause more problems than they solve.
While a touchscreen may seem more futuristic, it makes typing slower and less accurate, and really provides no true benefit to the user. While we certainly need better interfacing technology than a computer and mouse, the touchscreen was actually a step back. Perhaps someday, we will find a truly efficient and non-frustrating way to use our electronic devices.
6. Voice Activation And Speech Recognition Is A Gigantic Waste Of Time And Money
In the realm of interfacing with technology, another thing incredibly common in Sci-Fi movies is the ability to interact with your technological devices by simply speaking to it. Not only can your computer perfectly understand what you are saying, but it also understands your unique tones and even can tell your emotions. This may not sound very far advanced, but the truth is that this kind of speech recognition technology is basically wizardry as far as actual science is concerned.
Speech recognition is incredibly complicated and difficult to work with. Getting a computer to even recognize the correct words in the first place can be quite difficult, but even that can be a challenge for one person and their voice. Even if the machine is calibrated to a person’s voice, if they have a slight cold or slur their words it could skew it terribly.
Voice recognition is so hard to program because to accurately understand, it has to be able to account for the incredible amount of different dialects and accents in the world, put it into proper context and even know when the usual person they interface with has a slightly different sounding voice for some reason. Devices like Siri attempt to show what speech recognition can do and mainly come across as a joke. The attempts to integrate this into technology so heavily are another example of people putting stuff from sci-fi movies into real life not because it is a good idea, but because it looked cool on screen.
5. Attempting To Create A True Artificial Consciousness With Full Sentience
Many people are obsessed with the Sci-Fi idea of robots where it seems to be truly conscious of itself and what it is - many popular media will explore the issue in depth as a kind of moral question, postulating how far the rights of artificially conscious beings should go. However, the truth is that there aren’t any scientists, at least not any serious ones, actually trying to create a artificially conscious being. The problem is that right now we don’t even really understand what makes a consciousness in the first place. The best research into brain science doesn’t really come close to understanding why humans are able to be fully aware of their experience, and some experts believe that if we accidentally created a computer that could truly think, we might not even realize it.
Recently experts like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have come out against certain types of AI research and have strongly cautioned against the dangers. Many people think they have jumped the shark and shouldn’t be taken seriously, as we are nowhere near creating artificially conscious beings. However, the truth is that the dangers would be just as bad whether the AI we create is ever actually conscious in any form or not.
As experts will point out, a computer doesn’t need to be conscious to be better than you or more efficient than you at something. If it beats you at chess, it isn’t conscious of its victory, but it still won. If AI were to have a flaw in its programming - which is not unlikely with the extreme complexity of the programming - that caused it to do something very bad for humanity, it would do it extremely efficiently and quickly. Given too much control over too many things in the name of making our lives easier, it could be hard to stop, or do untold damage in mere minutes before we can shut it off. Many experts are already talking about implementing various forms of kill switches and other safety features for AI in the future to avoid possible calamity.
4. Allowing Our Power Grids to Be Controlled By And Connected To A Network
Many people tend to take their power for granted until it goes out. An insane amount of work goes into keeping the lights on 24/7 and many people don’t realize just how easy it is for something to go wrong. Plants can only store energy for a short time so they pretty much always have to be on and they need to ensure that the right amount of energy is being produced to keep from producing too much, and still ensure everyone has their power.
In the event of major disasters, power going down can greatly slow recovery efforts, and put many more people in danger. This is why it is essential that our power grid is well maintained and kept safe from any threats. However, there is an increasing worry that the security of the United States power grid, and perhaps others throughout the developed world, could be vulnerable to hackers, whether foreign or domestic.
Many plants are still analogue, which is lucky, but more modern plants are often connected to networks that can be reached without being on location. Even just the ones that could be shut down or messed with for a short time could cause untold damage and chaos to the country. While it may seem like a good idea to have the internet always connected, in terms of security, the only way to be truly safe is to never allow your system to be connected to any outside network at all.
Now, experts do caution that the things that can be reached digitally even with the ones that are, in some way connected, would not be able to cause as many problems as some people fear. After all, the plants themselves always have many failsafes and people working around the clock to make sure everything is working properly. What hackers could actually have access to is somewhat limited, so the current chaos possible is not incredibly high. If we do continue to make everything more digital though, and we allow it all to be integrated into a network, even an accident or a computer worm could be catastrophic.
3. The Movement By Companies To Automate And Digitally Integrate Every Home Appliance
Chalk this one as well up to Sci-Fi movies causing people to want technologies they don’t need, we have the push in the past decade or so, that seems to be repeated every year at tech shows, to integrate all of your home appliances to work along with your smartphone and tablet and other technology. This is the kind of thing you would see in something like the Jetsons and may seem extremely cool, but for very good reason, it just doesn’t catch on.
Every years companies like Samsung attempt to push these products, and every year consumers decline. The fact of the matter is that while they are sold as convenience devices, they actually make everything way more complicated. Making refrigerators and toasters digital is a solution looking for a problem - all you are doing is adding more things that can go wrong. It would also require most people to get entirely new sets of appliances to make them all properly work with the attached smartphone apps.
Even those who are very well to do and interested in new technology find the idea to be a tough sell. It’s essentially attempting to sell something as convenience that adds more steps to people’s lives and provides them with more things that could break or stop working properly. It may seem cool because it is like the movies, but technology should make people’s lives simpler, not more complicated.
2. Virtual Reality Research Is Breaking New Ground, But Not Asking The Right Questions
In many cases people are convinced that virtual reality is another step forward in human evolution. They figure that being able to mimic reality with technology is incredibly advanced, but while it is certainly a very difficult and cutting edge field, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good idea at all. While there are some possible real world training applications for virtual reality - such as teaching someone surgery or other such important procedures without needing to deal with a live patient, it also comes with its own ethical quandaries and other issues.
Many psychologists are already worried that when virtual reality really takes off, people will soon find it hard to differentiate between the two worlds. While devices could be designed to stop people from playing for too long at a time, hackers are known to disable such things. Also, while some think keeping things separate might make for a better situation, technology like Pokemon Go is already proving that people are looking to make virtual reality that is augmented with real world movement.
This can of course cause serious dangers like people who have been hurt crossing the road and not looking first properly because they were trying to catch a Pokemon with their phone, but psychologists are even more afraid of the long term new psychoses that could develop around a world where people are more and more unable to tell what is real from what is not. As for training people to do dangerous work, this is also an ethical consideration. Some would argue that despite how real it may seem, it isn’t the same as the real, actual training, which could lead to all kinds of legal and moral issues.
1. Using Cutting Edge Medical Technology To Cosmetically Change People’s Eye Color To Blue
It wasn’t long ago that most people didn’t expect to live past their 50s or maybe their 60s at the very best, and there have been times in history when life expectancy was much, much worse. As we have continued to advance our medical technology we have managed to do all kinds of medical marvels. We have been able to give normal lives to people who have lost senses, limbs, and other important parts of their bodies. We have been able to cure or lessen the effect of many things that would have been a death sentence not long ago.
We’ve reached a point where people are now more worried about the cost and availability of care than they are about the actual quality. However, while technology and quality of care has greatly improved, there are still many people in the world who are without the medical care they need. While there are some doctors out there who see this need and work to make sure everyone needs care, there are others who have decided there are more important things to do, and are working tirelessly in their labs on prototype technology to change people’s eyes to the more desirable color blue.
While this may just sound like many other existing cosmetic surgeries, it was an incredibly expensive and time consuming research process that is likely to benefit only the very rich. They point out that some people are very rarely born with mismatched eyes, and that this could help them fit in, but it is an incredibly small number of people that couldn’t sustain a business and they are clearly looking to go commercial with their invention. Unfortunately, in modern days some in the medical field are way more interested in finding a way to get rich than in truly improving medical care.
[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]