(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

Artificial Stupidity

Posted on: May. 6, 2014  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: Boodle-cise, General

Consciousness and Decision Making:  Are we just phoning it in?

I was having a fun and interesting discussion with my son, who is in college and is allowed to think these days, about the Spike Jonze movie “Her” and artificial intelligence (AI).  While many of us have heard of robotic type toys for kids that become companions and aids for keeping the elderly company as well, the movie goes beyond that to reveal a man, Theodore Twombly, who becomes enamored with his computer’s operating system.  Set in the supposed near future, the man’s character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is shown to be thoughtful but having just come from a failed romantic bond, uses the computer as a surrogate for an interpersonal relationship.  In other words, this form of bond is like a reverse situation to a blow-up doll or the opposite of another movie “Lars and the Real Girl.”

My son’s point was somewhat reductive in that he proffered that relationships are artificial anyway in that we try to put our best foot forward and create an image of who we want to be seen as so does it really make a difference if the one you are relating to happens to possess a body?  Further, since everyone is trying to tell each other what they want to hear anyhow, why not just throw a computer into the mix?  It is all advertising and performance art anyhow.

This may reveal as much about the quality of our relationships as the potential benefits and pitfalls of artificial intelligence.  The vulnerable side of us, especially children, the elderly, and the lonely can look to the safety of a relationship where we can experience that relationship without the possibility of pain and rejection.  Although (spoiler alert), the AI, called Samantha, in “Her” does in fact “two-time” the main character Twombly and eventually move on to something else.  The love becomes more object then subject but this returns back to my son’s point that we are just trying to satisfy our own emotional needs anyhow.

Theodore Twombly in “Her” was truly alone but felt his surrogate was a true relationship which offered some safety from the messy real world kind and turned a distraction into an illusion of a connection.  If you’ll beg my pardon, this type of relationship reminds us of yet another bygone era Lubitsch movie “The Shoppe around the Corner” where the main characters bicker as they compare their relationship to an idealized version of the ones they both have with a pen pal which, in the end, actually turns out to be themselves who have written the letters.  So they argued with each other face-to-face while idealizing their literary double that they imagined to be in love with.  With the “Her” relationship, we can imagine our digital other to be anything we want them to be and that goes for our being the object of their desire.  As to companionship, a computer can be programmed as though it really is listening just as a person can go through the motions too.  Yet, sounding like being heard and being heard are two very different social animals.  If you are after someone who wants to tell you what you want to hear then perhaps it doesn’t really matter if it is a robot, an avatar, AI, or “yes man” mirroring back to you.  Empathy has to be learned from social experience.

In our imagination, we forget that this other intelligence never was raised in a certain geographic area with the influences of parents, family, friends and all the pain and pleasure and everything in between of interpersonal relationships and socialization.  Of course, my son could say that socialization is just a form of programming where we need to avoid this or seek that in order to get our just rewards and punishments.  Robots can be programmed to push our buttons just as people do.  Can an argument be made that if this Twombly person cannot sustain a relationship or find a suitable one then, at least, he has an artificial one which is better than true loneliness? However, doesn’t this come down to lowering our expectations to get comfort from something that truly cannot love us back?  Some might take from “Her” that the computer was capable of love which shows just how much the trappings of our own human errors can easily make technology out to be.  Is unrequited love still a type of love?  Certainly, it is by definition.  There is a side of us that is intrigued by the possibility of machines having consciousness but that tells us more about who we are or who we are not.

Now there is even a new movie called “Transcendence” with Johnny Depp that hits the AI issue.  There is so much written by philosophers, sociologists, and non-artificial intelligents that it is not for me to add to that pantheon.  However, my perspective is from the side of economics.  These surrogate techno-relationships and the effect of technology is carving a new behavior in our world and economics is all about behavior.  Technology has held itself out as a tool, especially for the world’s global economy, to make things work more productively and serve our needs and purposes.  We forget however, that technology can just as easily shape, control, and rework how we look at the things that we are trying to make work for us.

I am from a generation before social media kept track of us all.  I had a friend from elementary school through high school named Milton Miller.  Every once in a while something jogs a memory and I wonder what happened to him.  The last I knew he was off to Stanford after high school.  When any of us leave high school, like leaving the city where you grew up, you have a blank slate to become someone new.  Entrepreneurs reinvent themselves many times but if your virtual self is always dogging you, what does that mean to an evolving self?  What is the advantage of being in touch with someone all the time?  Some of us even keep up with others by “stalking” those we come in contact with online.  I am free to imagine all sorts of things that happened to Milton Miller.  I can create and recreate his world anyway I want and, who knows, it might turn out to be a lot more stimulating than the real MM’s life.

The same holds true for social media’s constant connection.  When I was in college, I travelled to remote parts of Mexico where no one knew anything about my life or city in those days.  If you told a native Spanish speaker that you were from Los Angeles, he or she gave you a strange look like why is this person telling me they are with the angels.  I was cut-off from everything and everyone I knew.  That molds the way you see your self.  Compare that to today when if you are in constant contact with those you know by video, phone, and text than where does this flourishing new impression of your own identity get to go to?

Yet everyone today seems obsessed with portraying themselves on their social media sites by making their self an idol complete with profiles, images, pictures, and experiences designed to expose who they want to be seen as.  My cynical side asks are these folks primarily reporting these experiences or looking at the experiences beforehand as good ones to match what they want to report and then going out and doing them?  What about social media friends that aren’t really friends and having so little filter on being members of the same set of traits that you enter into group think rather than thinking for yourself.  I guess from a group think standpoint, consumers all wanting or buying the same thing can be a good thing.  On the flip side, do you fall prey to creating a persona for each online group that you come into contact with?

With so many of us using technology and avoiding face-to face interactions until necessary, what does that say for our use of social skills?  Are we suffering from technological Asperger’s?  The harsh extreme is when we hear of someone who ends a relationship electronically.  Connection becomes facile and wins out to more intimate moments.

Many children have to compete these days with parental cell phone usage for attention.  It is not just a time thing where addiction to technology takes up so much of our lives that we do not have time to be part of the economy (although gaming twenty hours a day does have its effects).  It is what happens to our behavior when so much time is needed to keep our techno-world afloat?  If we lose a phone or do not have access to connection, we feel incomplete or anxious.  Some say they can still feel their lost phone vibrate like those that have limb cut-off but still feel it now and then.

Then there is the problem that technology always seems to be the answer for what problems we have and that we become complacent knowing that some magical solution will be worked out if we all put our technological heads together.

What does all this have to do with money, you say?  Economics is all about decision making and what does the not-understanding-the-limits-of-technology do to our decisions and the consequences of those decisions?  We lose an important social frame of reference when technology is the main perspective that shapes us.  This is not to mention the advantages of solving problems by taking the time to reflect on things deeply and using solitude to expand our reference and perspective.

This doesn’t even bring up the small things like being able to have a conversation face-to-face and reading non-verbal cues which could be used if it is necessary to have a job interview.  Is it possible that a phone call will become too difficult because we have forgotten what to say when there is no pre-ordained agenda?  Nor does it bring up larger issues like trading inequities due to mass trading differences and advantages or disadvantages for consumers and institutions.

As workers, do we give our job our full attention or is it split between our many online activities.  As individuals, do we try and communicate so quickly and superficially that we give up profundity?  Have we compromised our privacy and habits for commercial and political use and given up fighting for fairness because that is “just how it is”?  If a relationship or a job sours is it just as easy to move to another one or even better to have another one because it is new and different?  Do we have to force ourselves to have a quiet or unconnected moment?  Do our public and private lives and job go everywhere which gets blended into a theater of sameness?

What is all this competition for attention doing to our lives?  The economy is all about decisions.  Decisions are aligned with values.  Technology can affect the type of decisions we are making especially around what place technology has in our lives.  If we use technology as a tool to help to us be more productive and to lead to more meaning and purpose in our lives, then we are using it in a way that can help to make us better consumers, employers and employees, and using our wealth wisely.  If we are unaware of how much technology is taking away from our lives than we can be killing off the goose that lays the virtual egg.  As in the “Her” tale, we are not using the operating system as much as the system is operating us.

 

Exercises: 

  1. Are you using half of your working (or school) day or having to work twice as long in order to handle phone calls, texts, e-mails, do personal searches or surfing, pass along photos or videos, and update social media sites?  Is work and social life becoming mixed?
  2. How much time do you spend on social media sites in order to seek someone’s approval who you hardly know in the physical real world, try and get on the good side of someone you hardly know, and wonder what your online friends actually provide you with?
  3. Do you feel pressure to keep up appearances on social media sites?
  4. Do you feel disoriented, “off,” or not feel like yourself in some way when you are not connected to others virtually or do you long for simpler times when time was of your own choosing?
  5. Do you have to make times to be face-to-face with others, be out in nature, or have experiences that are not subject to being photographed or related to in some way on social media?
  6. Are their times when you get to experience solitude and reflection and if you do, where you do not feel like you are hiding?  How much time in a day do you have where you know you will not be interrupted?
  7. Do you find it hard to have things of substance to say to others, or struggle to think of things to say, or feel you could improve on your conversation skills?
  8. Do you have an avatar, profile, or online self that you actually spend money on for clothes, shoes, or other items for the image?
  9. Do you feel anxious or upset if you do not receive a response to a communication you have sent?
  10. Are you paying half a mind to someone with you in person while spending the other half on a phone?
  11. Have you had an accident or almost had an accident while driving, walking, or looking at a device?  Do you feel the need to see a message or text immediately and try and see it at that moment?
  12. Do you cut-off one person regularly to speak with for another or feel the need to try and find out who is trying to reach you?
  13. Do you feel you are skilled at keeping up with the many communications and contacts handled?
  14. Do you feel fatigued by trying to keep up with all the communications necessary in a day?
  15. Do you worry you have compromised your privacy?
  16. Do you think you are vulnerable because of your online purchases, electronic history, and buying habits or that you could be taken advantage of politically?
  17. Are you driven to have new things or new connections?

 

Click here to see a video blog from Petflow.com called “Look Up” by Gary Turk on our cell phone culture

 

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