Part 2 — Feeding the Machines: Humans’ Experience with Artificial Intelligence
In Part 1 of this series we looked back at the good old days of computing when we knew that machines were in the driver’s seat. It was all we could do to get them running and keep them running. Think of a coal fired locomotive as the technology and the poor humans shoveling in coal to feed the beast.
Not fun. Not human centered. Not going to have to deal with that very long because…
Drive through dining
I know that it’s bad, but I really love Taco Bell tacos. Not all the time, but every once in a while. While this may not say much about the quality of my decisions, it does say something for the mighty taco.
Taco Bell tacos are digital entities. The standardization process is so entrenched that variation is negligible. There is either taco or no taco. Binary. One or zero.
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And so too became technology in the era of the dumb phone. You could text (T9!), send grainy photos, check an email or two, and use the Internet… sort of.
One instant you’re just an analog human relegated to just talking to other humans, and in an instant you go digital. Text or no text. Photo or no photo. Simple human nuance slips to the back of your experience as you remove the parts of yourself that counter-facilitate the binary magic in your hand. Your precious.
When you get a new phone, the experience stays roughly the same. Maybe a larger screen or a full keyboard, but not much changed for a while. Humans lived dual lives — the digital life and the analog life.
Let’s order in
Enter the smartphone. The big bang of technology. With wildfire pace, each of us is now connected to everyone and everything else. All the time. Day and night. By default.
- New flavor latte at the coffee shop? Ping! Alert as you drive by.
- High school acquaintance enjoying a chicken sandwich? Buzz! Pictures of him eating.
- Texting with friends? Ping! Ping! Welcome your 172 new notifications.
Without even asking our smartphones ping and buzz to remind us of everything that wants our attention, that deserves our attention.
Except most things do not deserve our attention. Most things are inconsequential. And even important things are rarely immediately pressing.
We traded part of our human condition for hyper-connection and depersonalized convenience. Instead of going out with friends, we order pizza at home. Bouncing from social media to text message to watching when our pizza comes out of the oven. We are at once connected yet alone.
This sense of disconnection is a contemporary topic of depression and suicide research among teens and young adults. I’ll go into that further in a coming discussion, so take my word for it now or search on “depression and screen time” or check out this article (https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/11/15/more-screen-time-tied-to-depression-suicide-behaviors-in-teens/128771.html)
How and how often we engage with pervasive technology can literally kill us. That does not sound like a system designed to support human needs with technological tools.
An invisible hand silently shapes our interactions and exposures. Marketers knows where we shop, when we move, if we have dogs or children. Big Data scours the digital landscape for personal actions and information. Most of the information we give away for free or without the fear of consequence through browsers, shopping, and social media.
So technology and connection are everywhere. It helps us but also harasses and endangers us as humans simply trying to be human. Humans are inescapably human. It’s part of the deal,
We need technological tools that fervently support our humanness. Otherwise we will spend more time connected but alone, ordering in.