Monday, August 22, 2016


Mobile addiction, mobile dependence, mobile liberation

Kevin Talbot, ed. - STRICTLY M O B I L E, How the Largest Man-Made Platform in History Is Changing Our World – COPY R I G H T © 2 0 1 6 K E V I N TALBOT

This book is a collection of twelve studies (the authors apart from Kevin Talbot are Gary Clayton, John Couch, Jennifer Haroon, Aditya Khurjekar, Manish Kothari, Ezra Kucharz, Bill Mark, Bertrand Nepveu, Bob Richards, Paola Santana, Eric Topol,) on twelve important developments in the field of mobile technology written by twelve people who all play a key role in the fields they each cover. The style is simple and there is no over technical or scientific terms and language. It is written for the wide public, a public that is educated in computing but not more than necessary to do just a little bit more than surviving in this connected world.

A fundamental idea is given right from the start: mobile technology is transforming the world because of four factors: 1- world wide Internet usage, 2- global smart phone adoption, 3- the Internet of Things, and 4- the millennial generation who are mobile natives, in other words they were connected to a mobile phone from their very birth onward and maybe during the pregnancy of their mothers. We are becoming unable to survive in our society without a smart phone or at least a cell phone.

The question of Artificial Intelligence is crucial. Five domains of research and progress can be listed: 1- visual perception, 2- natural language understanding, 3- planning, 4- machine learning and 5- knowledge representation. When the five subfields of AI are put together we have robotics. Yet we need to cope with the field of emotions and understanding and interacting with people, and even so it is not enough and the system has to become autonomous and thus has to be able to cope with moral dilemmas That will have to be programmed in the machine. And yet that will not be human because a person does not react the way he/she is programmed but from what he/she has integrated through his/her specific experience in life from even before birth, and according to many circumstantial elements that a machine cannot even know about, let alone have programmed in its software: things like the mood of the person, the light around him/her, the weather, the heat and air conditioning, the general atmosphere around him/her, etc. A machine can learn but a machine will never learn like a human being who started hearing in the 24th week of his/her mother’s pregnancy. To paraphrase Shakespeare: “a machine does not bleed when you prick it, etc…” This author goes as far as saying that “a person reacts on instinct.” This is not human but animal. Humans have spent years and years to learn things that are not instincts but integrated knowledge. All houses have roofs not because it is the human instinct that dictates it but because the house and its roof are there to protect man against the weather. They are the extension n of our skin and clothing as Marshall McLuhan would say. That is not instinct, nothing to do with bees and their beehives, and animals do not wear clothing.

When dealing with medicine, it is quite clear that mobile technology will be essential, if it is not already, particularly connected health machines and wearable machines connected to services and people who can follow the patient and help if there is a problem or if an adjustment in the treatment is necessary. Yes big hospital are doomed and the main resistance will come from doctors (who will lose a lot of privileged positions) and regulatory bodies who will try to impose costly traditions because they are traditions, in spite of the risk assessment policy of WHO. Some of the new “micro-or-nano-machines” envisaged here are interesting though they all run into one problem. The following are suggested: digestable sensors (a chip in a digestable pill); sensors embeddable in the blood stream; and biodegradable chips directed glued on the skin. The real question is what will these connected devices be connected to and who will have access to this central processing unit (the new connected CPU à la 1984). This question is not even asked.

As for education, the digital natives all men can be, and some are such from nearly-birth, are already confronted and will be a lot more soon to mobile technology within the learning process but the author does not seem to be aware of some learning styles and strategies when he only lists “visual, kinetic and combination of different modes.” If it were that simple! Most people are visual dominant but not limited to the visual competence and some are not visual dominant but audio dominant. The kinetic element has to be widened to the tactile, gustative and touch elements, what makes a human experience uniquely human and any human experience uniquely personal. This has to do with a myriad of psychological en experiential elements that are absolutely unique for each learner. Standard school systems have tried to treat all students alike – in the name of equality – and that was a mistake but here that mistake is not corrected. MOOC are nothing but standard classes or lectures, at times visually enhanced (and we do not need to produce a MOOC to use visual elements in class, broadcast on the Internet.. The medium is different, the product is the same.

We have to shift from “KNOWLEDGE – TRANSMITTED TO – LEARNER” to a completely different procedure or algorithm like “LEARNER/SEARCHER – SEARCHES & ASSIMILATES – KNOWLEDGE HE/SHE FINDS BY HIS/HER OWN MEANS.” And we have to add this supplementary element that all the knowledge found by the learner has to be contradictory, to contain opposed points of view. And even so learners need, require and demand a regular human contact either by telephone, or by Skype or one-on-one for discussions, confrontations, suggestions, incitation to go beyond. Knowledge is a construct and we have to get out of the prefabricated standard scholastic knowledge to get to a constructive and constructing learner who owes all his knowledge to his own efforts and searches and even to the struggle to have the necessary confrontation sessions with other learners and with specialists of what he is looking for and with teachers who are not giving knowledge any more but only indicating a road that might be more productive or interesting in that constructive construction.

When the chapter comes to assessment it is a plain futuristic illusion. Of course we have to use machines for the assessment that has to be digital, interactive, tailored to the needs of the student and integrating feedback in real time. But that is good only for factual knowledge, Multiple Choice Questionnaire. But that cannot be the case of an essay that is constructive, creative and contradictory. How can a machine measure the originality of the architecture of such an essay and the brilliance of its style? Maybe one day when humans are robots and machines humans. The machines though can easily point out plagiarism and other evils of essay writing, including the use of essay-writing software. That’s why such essays should be contradictory presentations of three or four students in the shape of systematic debates with an assessing jury that could be composed of both teachers and learners. And that can or even has to start as soon as possible after birth, or at least after the child can speak, which is around three years old.

I have little to say about self-driving cars that will be very useful for blind people, elderly people, people who cannot drive and people who use chauffeurs all the time, uberized or not. But once again these cars will be connected and some central unit will build their “experience.” Who will be behind this central processing unit and what kind of security must we think of? It will be very useful to the police and other security agencies, private or public.

Manipulation is banal with modern robots and even better with tomorrow’s robots. Sensors have become versatile and they will be useful provided they bring “delight” to the users and they respect or enhance the users’ sense of dignity (people who cannot do something accept to do it with the help of a machine they control better than with the help of another human they do not control).

Autonomous transportation of merchandise with drones is purely commercial – or military – but it is so far limited by the weight drones can carry and the distance they can fly autonomously. We are far from personal drones for individuals, and frankly if that happens one day and everyone goes to the baker’s, to the post office and all other convenience stores or services by drone it might be hectic at certain times in the day and no more walking at all: good morning obesity and heart diseases.

The lunar frontier is being privatized. Good if you want but the project is greedy: only exploit resources on the moon that do not exist on the earth or are rare or difficult to reach. But the main question that is not even considered is that of the occupation of the soil and the property of the resources extracted from that soil. What would be the criteria for anyone having the right to do this or that here or there: first arrival, military means, buying a section of the moon (from whom?), the size of each claim, etc? Are we going to transform the moon into some western territory in cosmic dimension? Is the invasion of a territory and claiming that it is mine acceptable for me or any other person? And what do we do with previous occupants, if any? Exterminate them like American Indians and First Nations?

The front lines are numerous and those considered here are only a few. The hardware is not really a problem today, and certainly not tomorrow. The software is not discussed really and that is bothering because each producer has his own software and they are not compatible. Are we going to go on reproducing the absence of open standards that can enable all users to access all resources without having to buy a special machine and a special software for each one of them? But what is more important is the content, and “content is king,” that is going to circulate on these mobile highways. Sure enough perishable content and commoditized content are not interesting. Content has to be unique and durable or perennial and of sufficient quality to stand out if it pretends to be professional or creative. That is to say it has to be sustainable: it must produce its own audience (due to the quality of its content); it must produce the means to go on with its own work and broadcasting (that means money: advertising or premium subscriptions, etc); and what is even more important it must produce the desire for more in the audience targeted and reached. The sustainability of sports events cannot be the same as the sustainability of opera because the audiences are not the same but both contents have to be sustainable with their audience if they want to simply survive and go on existing. That question is not considered in enough depth in the chapter concerned.

Mobile payments is fictitious up to the moment when the author of the chapter finally suggests an identification of the user of the mobile phone that is absolutely sure like his/her fingerprint, since smart phones have tactile screens, but the author only suggests this at the end after several pages comparing the security of credit cards and smart phones to the advantage of the latter, though the identification of the user is a number (card or phone) and a pin code with or without then some kind of back control to the user who has to get a special code on the telephone (but the person behind the telephone is not necessarily the real owner). Then the author suggests “blockchain” as a security measure but for the banks and the merchants, not for the customer. All these securities are based on automated procedures and apparently the only security for the customer is to tie the smart phone to his left or right hand with an un-pickable handcuff and a chain in non-cuttable metal.

Virtual Reality is a gadget to make ourselves believe we are in a real conference whereas it is only a video conference, in a real class, whereas it is only a MOOC, or in a real business meeting whereas it is only some Skype multi-connection. Maybe simply make you believe you are on Fifth Avenue though you have never been in New York: a VR satellite image by Google, in a way. We are far from anything there, except if we are speaking of games and entertainment: a VR-DVD for an opera at the MET, why not?

As for Love, the subject has been dealt with by so many filmmakers that it is funny to oppose artificial intelligence to companionship. We all have difficulty being understood everyday by people who know us, at times quite well, because out words and intonations are our own and other people do not acknowledge them. Imagine a robot then who will have to become an image of the user to understand and use the same words and intonations with the same meaning, and also the same functional constructions, etc. But then where will companionship be if the robot is an image of the user? Narcissistic companionship. And ethical dilemma and choices, strategic questions and life or death decisions cannot be considered within a narcissistic relation, but within a contradictive situation. But the contradiction I expect if we are discussing abortion is not at all the same as if we were discussing the wall along the border or Mexico or Brexit. Will that robot be able to be as many advisors as I need according to my needs at this or that time? A robot-orchestra for sure. But that is not feasible. If we speak of companion for a cancer patient in terminal phase, that sounds easier, but a companion who can be a personal assistant, a friend and confidant, and a small-talk companion to an advanced researcher in several fields of competence like ancient languages, anthropology, modern literature and baroque, classical or modern music, it might be slightly more complicated.

Just delve into the book and keep your imagination wide open because too often technical people seem to lose their creative imagination that would tell them they are just forgetting the fundamental fact that nothing black is black all the time and everywhere. And there are so many shades of grey!


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