Alexa, AI, and the One

While I like technology, I don’t think I am too much of a gadget person. I am rarely-to-never an early adopter and will acquire gadgets when I think they serve a functional purpose I might value. The one exception was Amazon Echo. They promoted it at about 25% of the first generation Echoe and I thought why not, buying the device before it was generally available.. The year was 2014. As with most things technological, things change and advance.

I like to read at the very end of the day while in bed. Sometimes I read on a Kindle (late adoption) but I still like “real” books. With Kindle I could turn out the light and crawl under the covers, read for a while, and simply close the Kindle, and that was that. With a real book, I had to hop out of bed, turn off the light, and then back under the cover. Not too taxing, but when I had already nodded off to sleep… then it became, “I need to rethink this.” There were obvious solutions such as a small reading lamp that could attach to the bed, but just about that time, Amazon introduced smart plugs. Why not? Now the already-asleep me only had to regain enough consciousness to mutter, “Alexa, turn off bedroom.”

Now, Alexa operates lights and plugs in my room, my office and in the friary kitchen – plays music too. She has learned from my choices and knows my news, music, and weather report preferences. She is connected to my online calendar and can tell me the next so-many events. She will tell you a joke if you ask. There are lots of useful features. She takes requests for dinner music and will mostly come up with good options. One of the friars was a little “Alexa challenged” in the beginning, but he is now a pro. Early on I sent him some information on the Echo Silver for Senior, you can watch this video from the folks at Saturday Night Live.

It all got me musing about where this is all going. Time Magazine wrote an article not too long ago. The opening paragraph was:

It’s 6 A.M., and the alarm clock is buzzing earlier than usual. It’s not a malfunction: the smart clock scanned your schedule and adjusted because you’ve got that big presentation first thing in the morning. Your shower automatically turns on and warms to your preferred 103°F. The electric car is ready to go, charged by the solar panels or wind turbine on your roof. When you get home later, there’s an unexpected package waiting, delivered by drone. You open it to find cold medicine. Turns out, health sensors embedded in your bathroom detected signs of an impending illness and placed an order automatically. Good thing you already knocked that presentation out of the park.

Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, the smartest homes will be able to truly learn about their owners or occupants, eventually anticipating their needs. Developments in robotics will give us machines that offer a helping hand with cleaning, cooking and more. New sensors will keep tabs on our well-being. Central to all of this will be the data that smart homes collect, analyze and act upon, helping to turn the houses of the future from a mere collection of gadgets and accessories into truly “smart” homes. (What Will Smart Homes Look Like 10 Years From Now? 7/25/2019)

It’s called many things, mostly, the “Internet of Things,” (IoT) with an amazing array of products making our life “computerized.” It is all becoming so complicated that they resemble the organic: messy, unpredictable, inscrutable. The AI engineers simply offer that the machine learns like your pet dog: by trial and error, with ample treats. We wouldn’t ascribe human consciousness to our pet, but the dog is certainly aware using its own “onboard” sensors. Not dissimilar from the smart home – at least the one of the future. Reminds one of HAL 9000 in a “Space Odyssey” (1968 movie; or if you prefer a more modern reference, “Jarvis” from the movie series Iron Man/Avengers – Jarvis was helpful, HAL was not your friend).

Machine becoming “self aware” has been a foil in many Sci-Fi books and movies, but it is not new. Panpsychism—the proposition that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous—is one of humanity’s oldest ideas. It has cycled in and out of fashion in Western philosophy and has been enjoying a resurgence of late. For many neuroscientists and philosophers, panpsychism will be an essential feature of a theory of consciousness: Whatever mechanism creates the human mind need not be limited to humans. In the IoT, it becomes SkyNet (the Terminator movies series) that wants to wipe out humans.  I wonder why “it” always tries to wipe us out. We do have our good points!

In the theological world, it seems to me, the equivalent is pantheism. Pantheism is the belief that reality is identical with divinity, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, immanent being, but not a distinct personal being, anthropomorphic or otherwise. It comes in many forms and varieties, perhaps very poorly summarized (by me) as “world consciousness.” At the end of the things, the self/ego dissolves and we join the One. For some belief systems, it might take a reincarnation or two to get there, but it is destiny that it works out – so that the One can be one.

One of the advantages of getting on in years is that you can muse about such things knowing it will work itself out without me being around. I am good with that. I can just curl up with a good book and write long rambling posts. Uh huh….  (you really have to watch the video on the Echo Silver for Senior)

In the meantime rather than worrying about the “Internet of things” I will focus on the Creator of Things – The One who desires that all be saved.

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