The Human Mind: Unfiltered and Infinite

So a few nights ago I was watching TED talks before bed (#nerdlife) and there was a really interesting talk by  Ray Kurzweil who talked about the evolution of the human brain. In his talk he talked about how as Google moves towards more and more intelligent searching and our technologies for imaging the brain become more and more advanced, we will move towards adding these neurotechnologies to our brain so that one day we will truly have an infinite source of knowledge by inserting nanobots into our brain that connect to a cloud service.

Ultimate point – we will put Google in our brain.

And Google will learn to understand what webpages are saying. So when we ask Google it won’t bring up search results, it will have read and can deliver responses to complex questions (it can already tell you the answers to a large number of simple questions, and yet can’t tell me why the chicken crossed the road).

And I thought oh good God.
I mean can we just go back to Google – who already knows far too much about my existence thanks to my laziness with telling it not to track me – being in my brain and possibly searching based on my thoughts.
My mind will be Google’s.
Google already owns my digital data. It’s like the Miranda Rights of the internet. “Anything you search or post can be used to sell things to you. If you do not want us to do this, too bad. Do you understand these rights?”
But Google may one day have access to my subconscious thoughts?! Google will own my consciousness. Which means Google will own me?
Remind me to opt out of this nanobot thing. I would rather be the dumb old lady.

But this all got me thinking about what this means for the human species.

Google was added to the dictionary in 2006. True Story. It replaced a previous definition from 1907 that had something to do with cricket (the sport not the insect)...

Google was added to the dictionary in 2006. True Story. It replaced a previous definition from 1907 that had something to do with cricket (the sport not the insect)…

The big thing for me is that it already kind of bothers me, is that we live in a “Google it” world. And in full disclosure of my hypocrisy, I was overjoyed when they updated Google Now so that Google checked for my responses. (Hallelujah I don’t have to hit send anymore when I tell Google to text people! She ASKS me if I want to send the message and then turns the mike back on.) When my mom asks me what she should wear, I ask Google what the weather is. She commented “I wonder if it’ll be nice in Ottawa this weekend…” and I asked Google. Before I leave the house, Google tells me how long it will take to get to work. Google knows my habits, my appointments, my interests and concerns. And it’s terrifying.

But back to the issues at hand:

  1. To be useful, Google needs to know our needs. Like how Google noticed that I had a recurring appointment every Tuesday and started automatically giving me departure times and directions. So Google needs full access. It needs to know everything about us to know what we would need. If Google is in our brain, how do we clear browser history?
    If Google knows everything about our existence, then the access to our thoughts thing that I feared a few weeks ago when I talked about Mark Zuckerburg’s outrageous claim that one day our thoughts would be uploaded to Facebook, might actually be something we should be concerned about
  2. If we all have access to this vast array of knowledge – what does this mean about experts and intelligence tests? No one likes a know-it-all. And knowing and understanding are two vastly different concepts.

So Issue #1A: By wanting to know it all, are we essentially exposing every fiber of our existence to the world? Are we uploading our private thoughts to the internet in a quest for unlimited knowledge and smooth, hands-free access to the knowledge contained in the internet?

Issue #1B: We’re creepy enough with the internet as is… I think this may allow us to hit creepy level 1000. What happened to getting to know someone the old fashioned way?

Issue #2: Are we going to be smarter? Or dumber with more declarative/factual knowledge?

Potential bonus: If Google indeed monitors our consciousness, perhaps this technology could be used to flag individuals in need of mental health aid – for example, if Google noticed cognitive markers for an eating disorder or noticed that you were suicidal, perhaps Google could connect you to services or at least make recommendations. But this may not be enough – telling someone they have depression won’t make them get help, so at what point does Google become responsible for safeguarding our lives and sanity, and at what point is it reasonable to breach the privacy of the human mind?

But I mean the real question on everyone’s mind I’m sure (no pun intended) is will this be like smart phones and we’ll just use these nanobots to search more pictures of cats. Pictures that can be uploaded directly to our visual cortex?

the truth right there.

the truth right there.

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Life 2.0: Online and Infinite Edition

I think I officially have a problem guys.

For my regular readers, you may remember how my attachment to my technology almost made me skip a run. This problem is spreading to other areas of my life.

So Tuesday night, it’s nearly midnight, I have managed to force myself to put down my phone after getting into bed,  and read a few pages of Pride and Prejudice before turning out the lights and snuggling into my sheets. I closed my eyes and prepared to drift peacefully off to sleep, content in my belief that I had finally broken the habit of compulsively checking all mail and social media before bed.

Nope.

See I was doing so well, and then an idea for a post struck. My hands got twitchy and after about a minute of trying to convince myself to just write it down in the morning, that yes I WOULD remember when I woke up, I caved. So yes, I wrote this from my bed when I should have been halfway to REM sleep.

I also get anxious when I don’t have my cell phone within a 30-second radius of my person. A few weeks ago, I got to the bus stop and realized I had forgotten my cellphone at home. This struck enough terror in my heart that I almost decided to miss the bus and be late for class to go back for it. Since the bus was pulling around the corner I went with the be on time option, determined to make do with playing Minesweeper on my iPod. Two minutes in to my 50 minute bus ride the unthinkable happened – I reached in my pocket and pulled out my dead iPod. To make matters worse I didn’t even have my tablet. Yes folks I was stuck on a bus for 48 minutes completely unplugged. Left alone to notice the world around me without any technological filters.

the horrorThe horror.

What’s funny is that despite the fact that I use social media, as I think most people do, to feel less alone and more connected, sometimes all the social media just makes me feel more alone. Because that’s what happens when you see the most exciting moments and witty thoughts of those around you highlighted in one compact source. It’s a thing. Researchers are calling it the Fear of Missing Out (there’s a book here on the topic). Basically, we all think we’re sucking at life because we judge the snapshots posted to social media as indicative of people’s everyday lives. So you see people posting photos from the bar having fun while you’re home doing readings or something equally boring and you assume that they are out partying and having fun all the time. Like their work just does itself or you’re too inefficient to have time for such frivolity. Except that’s not the case. Like ever. Even if it is, doesn’t mean your life sucks.

But at this point at least three problems have become evident:

Problem One: I have lost all ability to just sit and only sit.

Problem Two: I am more attached to my phone than I am to some of my friends. This is what we call in psychology a pathological attachment.

Problem Three: Social media, you know that thing that’s supposed to bring us together has created an artificial closeness that looks a lot like separation.

But Wait there's more!

Come on, who wouldn't want to give that face a good ol' snuggle?!  Source. (If you go to uOttawa this will also take you to the page where you can find out more on when/where)

Come on, who wouldn’t want to give that face a good ol’ snuggle?!
Source. (If you go to uOttawa this will also take you to the page where you can find out more on when/where)

I realized laying in bed, that I don’t really live my life to live it, to enjoy, and simply be in every moment. I live my life so I can immortalize it on the internet. I thought about going to pet therapy on campus yesterday, managed to do the people thing and thought to invite a friend, and then thought about how to best ask for a photo there and what the perfect caption would be. Don’t judge. I honestly can’t be the only one that does this.

I’m all for sharing yourself with the world, connecting with a bigger world than the one you can connect to on a day-to-day basis.  What I am saying though is that life shouldn’t be lived for the digital world, with the idea of proving to Internetland that our lives are exciting as the primary goal. It should complement rather than supplant your experience with the other, connect you to others in a real way, which sometimes means disconnecting a bit.

taken from someecards.com

taken from someecards.com

But what I find interesting, is the digital trail we leave behind, clues for people who didn’t even know us about who we were as a human being*. And it’s sort of a new thing for our generation, certainly even more for people born AFB (After Facebook, this WILL BE the way we divide time in the future, AD and BC are going out the window, mark my words!), but we are living and leaving our entire lives online. With new moms frequently posting baby pictures and statuses about their babies’ activities online, baby books are slowly being digitalized, every moment immortalized for all the world to see. But it’s interesting how this almost appears to be a step in evolution.

Evolving or devolving

I was talking with a good friend of mine Tuesday night and he was telling me about how scientists are saying that it appears that homo sapiens are not evolving. That unlike all our hominid ancestors, we are not advancing or changing, which some may argue is because we have already reached perfection. I argue instead that while it is true that we are no longer developing new structures or changing the size and shape of our brain and body, we are evolving at a much more micro level which cannot yet be seen by the technology we have developed. I believe that rather than creating new structures, we are simply modifying the connections in our brain, and while we cannot necessarily scientifically measure these shifts yet, the cognitive and behavioural processes and the advancements of our technology are a manifest of these developments. Our culture and behaviours have shifted in major ways since the explosion of technology, particularly in terms of the internet and mobile devices such as the cell phone, tablet, and laptop. Thus, this invention of the online social network, this digital diary of sorts, can be conceived of as a modification of our cognitive processes, our psychic reality. To avoid the terror of our mortality, we have figured out this incredible system that now makes us Gods in a sense. We live forever. For many of us we live our lives so completely online, that people truly could get a perfect picture of our lives, but for most, it almost becomes debatable how we actually lived our lives when all that is available are the most exciting snapshots of our lives. And it’s sort of incredible. And really terrifying. Because 100 years from now when I’m worm food, what kind of person will I appear to have been to whoever happens to find my digital thumbprint? Will I leave an authentic image, or a sort of airbrushed version of my existence? Will they understand me when I can no longer explain myself?

taken from here.

taken from here.

This seems to come at a pretty heavy price when you realize that all this immortality means living half your life, because the other half must attend to your online memoriam that is always under construction. So we live half our life constructing what we will leave behind.

So was the whole point of this to make you swear off the internet (except for reading this blog, of course)? No, just that maybe we should be aware of how technology impacts our lives, and how sometimes we need to just disconnect from Internetland and live in the moment, not so we can post about it later. Really just a restless thought of a sleepless mind.

P.S. Tune in next week – there will be a follow-up to this post based on one of the most interesting things that has ever been said to me…. “And then death gets interesting…”

What the Run that Almost Wasn’t Taught Me

Yesterday was one of those surprisingly perfect runs. And I will admit – I almost didn’t go.

It started with I was too tired. I then rationed that somehow the hour and a half I had was not enough for a 30 minute run. Then it started snowing, and I didn’t have a headband, but at the same time I also sort of wanted to go even more. Then I noticed it was abnormally dark for 4PM. And my headphones were missing an ear bud.

I overcame all of this, before I realized that I had forgotten my Garmin on the kitchen counter.

the horror

And I didn’t have a pocket for my phone. At which point, as sad as it sounds, I thought, “ugh, is it even worth running?”

Yeah.

I know.

I am ashamed.

#GenYproblems

If I couldn’t take my technology I was taking my toys home. I apparently would rather be inactive than be active without digital proof of said activity. What did they do 30 years ago before Garmin watches existed?

They ran.

They laced up their shoes and they ran.

They used maps to track distance, maybe a stopwatch. An actual stopwatch. Not an app.

What did they listen to before iPods?

Their footsteps.

The sound of their feet pounding the pavement or dirt. The sound of their breath moving in and out of their lungs.

In that moment, with no music, no Garmin, and no headband; with snow and darkness falling, I actually turned around and went back inside.

If you think this is an exaggeration, at Run Club Sunday morning it was -24C, there was a guy in shorts. I meanwhile, had every article of dry-fit I own on.

If you think this is an exaggeration, at Run Club Sunday morning it was -24C, there was a guy in shorts. I meanwhile, had every article of dry-fit I own on.

And I hung my head in shame.

I stood in the hallway, debating what to do. It was cold. I had work to do. But the I thought,  I am already in my dry-fit. I have lugged my bag around campus. I have run downtown many times, I knew routes approximate distances.

There were a million reasons not to go.

I found the reason to go.

For the first time in a long time, possibly ever, I just ran.

I admit, I didn’t go completely tech free. I had my iPod strapped to my arm to track time, because I’m sort of obsessive about knowing that kind of stuff. I am also obsessive about finishing on either an even or half kilometer. I ran without my Garmin or headphones. I just ran.

And in that 29 and a half minutes, I reconnected with why I run. Why I’ve walked and ran half-marathons. I reconnected with the essential reasons, the beauty of my body.

I intimately connected to my breathing. I felt my chest expanding and falling with each breath and heard the breathing from within. The world, at the moment the downtown core during rush hour, was a whisper against the sound of my breathing. It was beautiful to listen to the rhythm of my feet on the pavement. Perhaps the darkness made me even more acutely aware, but the feeling of my muscles moving in my legs was never clearer to me.

It was an amazing run, a beautiful feeling of connection, and it made me realize how disconnected I have been the last few weeks. It has been crazy, and I have given up a lot of sleep as we move into the final part of the semester. My body has tried to warn me to slow down, eventually Monday I came home and went into a mini-coma and allowed my body the rest it needed. But in that moment, listening to my body and turning my entire existence inward, I had a moment of pure clarity about my world. My inner thoughts smoothed out and all that mattered was that moment.

I’m not saying just ignore things and only live in the moment, to a degree a dash of planning is required. But in that moment I realized what use is it living entirely in the future? At some point you have to slow down and breathe. You can think about the past, and you can plan for the future, but don’t forget about the present. Don’t forget to live.

Also, this video is really cool – talks about how you’re much more open when you’re running. I know I am, apparently running has the same effect on our inhibitions as drinking according to science. Are you really open when you run? Do you even like to talk when running? Do you run with people at all or are you the lone wolf type? Let me know in the comments down below!

Also, good point: