80’s Movies, Artificial Intelligence & Early Retirement

A few days ago I mused about the challenges of navigating the Facebook culture for a 37 year old closeted-insane person.

Today, I’d like to take that conversation a step further by discussing flesh eating robots.

I’m not a science fiction guy. Growing up, I didn’t watch Star Wars or The Terminator.  It wasn’t until 2014 that I watched The Matrix. 

Jack be limbo, Jack be quick. Jack go unda limbo stick. All around the limbo clock. Hey, let's do the limbo rock.
Jack be limbo, Jack be quick.
Jack go unda limbo stick. I never got the appeal of the Matrix. 

I could never understand how a Keanu Reeves movie, whose popular images appeared to suggest was about Karate, or the limbo, had everyone so enamored.

Less specifically, science fiction was just too science and too fiction for me. I took a hard pass.

For me and television – it was all comedy or sports. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, The Toy, Stripes, Bill Murray.

That kind of stuff, was the stuff.

Sometimes my sister seized the remote control and I was forced to watch the occasional romantic comedy. I’m not embarrassed to admit I grew to enjoy films of the romcom genre.

Chances Are, with Robert Downey, Jr. and Cybill Shepherd was perhaps my favorite 80’s romcom.  In that particular picture, Robert Downey Jr. is reincarnated and starts dating Mary Stuart Masterson (hot) – whom he eventually realizes is his all-grown-up daughter from his previous life. He then pursues Shepherd – Masterson’s mother and his former true-love.

Hilarity and Peter Cetera / Cher songs ensue.

Factoid: This guy was in every movie ever filmed between 1986-1991.
Factoid: This guy was in every movie ever filmed between 1986-1991.

I recently thought of Chances Are because when Robert Downey, Jr. visits the afterlife – he runs into ubiquitous 80’s character actor Joe Grifasi. Grifasi is an administrator in the afterlife, and he’s typing on something that resembles a celestial Ipad, even though Ipads wouldn’t be officially released for another 20+ years.

All that to say this:

(1) That Peter Cetera / Cher song is really good.

(2) What used to be the future is now the present, i.e. Ipads (if not celestial) are here.

Which brings me, in what surely could have been a smoother transition, to the concept of technological singularity.

Technological singularity is a concept straight out of the future. I hadn’t heard of this concept until last night, until I read this article on a concept called Artificial Intelligence (AI) (it’s actually a series of articles so here’s part 1).

Anyway those links are to 2 long articles on AI. AI, in a simple version, is the basic alarm clock. In a slightly more complex version AI is a driver-less car and in a way-more-complex version it generates scenarios beyond anyone’s capacity to fully understand the ramifications of.

Rather than try to explain what the articles said – I’ll just share this one image (below) from the text and encourage you to read the links if you’re interested.

Basically the articles and the image are suggesting that over the next 20-30 years we are likely to see as much progress in human existence (technological and otherwise) as we saw in the previous 100-200 years.

This explains where we might be in the course of human history. Courtesy waitbutwhy.com.
This explains where we might be in the course of human history. Courtesy waitbutwhy.com.

According to Wikipedia, Technological Singularity:

Is the hypothesis that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization in an event called the singularity. Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavorable, or even unfathomable.

Let me be clear – I’m not of the belief that flesh hungry robots are going to kill the human species – though that’s clearly a possibility that educated people entertain. Nevertheless – I’m not afraid of that. Life has always scared me more than death anyway.

How I’m going to die scares me a little, but again, that’s part of life – not death.

If my death is ultimately caused by flesh eating human robots – In some ways I’d consider it an honor.

Hey, I lived long enough that when I was a kid Ipads were part of a futuristic movie with the guy from Brewster’s Millions and an awesome Cher / Peter Cetera song, and now, as an adult, I’m being eaten alive by a flesh eating robot.

That would be quite a lifetime.


Please don’t think I’m some sort of science fiction conspiracy freak.

I might be, but please don’t think that. I’m not ready for that image.

My point – one of them anyway – is that I have read enough about The Internet of Things (IOT) and Google X to be open minded to the idea that humanity is on the precipice of some major, mind blowing alterations in our way of life.

Of course, there’s no real point dwelling on it. We’ll be there when we get there if we get there. Right now, we’re here.

Besides, there, the articles on AI make clear, can’t even be comprehended.

Look, it would be really cool if robots were cheap and smart enough to obviate the need for me to have a job – and for that technology to emerge before my savings account gets depleted 10% further – i.e. around April.

So that’s probably not going to happen.

And I’m not really part of that solution, anyway. After all, I’ve always been terrible at science and math. My only real skill in academia was writing papers loaded with bullshit. Blogging foreshadowed. But there were no blogs in 1989 – just imaginary celestial Ipads.

The reason any of this futuristic-science stuff has my attention, is attributable to something I read in another field of study. Last year, I came across a quote from a German-born American mathematician and electrical engineer named Charles P. Steinmetz (1865-1923). Apparently Steinmetz did a lot of the work leading to the development of the electric motor.

Nice work on that electric motor Steinmetz. I wrote an article on staring at women’s asses – so I’m not sweating it.

Anyway, for whatever reason, Steinmetz was quoted in Paramahansa Yogananda’s classic Autobiography of a Yogi. That book, which according to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Steve Jobs directed be handed out to each attendee of the memorial service following his 2011 death, was published in 1946 and tells the life story of a young man born in Gorakhpur, India. The young man eschewed traditional studies in favor of more “spiritual” practices (meditation, prayer, etc..) and dedicated his life to spiritual pursuits. He eventually became a U.S. based monk (Yogananda) with notoriety in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He met with Ghandi, Calvin Coolidge and many others.

Anyway – Steinmetz (the electrical engineer) was once asked what line of research, in his opinion, would see the greatest development in the future (he was actually asked about the next 50 years, so it’s possible his timing was off or that he answered the question indirectly). His answer:

I think the greatest discovery will be made along spiritual lines. Here is a force which history clearly teaches has been the greatest power in the development of men. Yet we have merely been playing with it and have never seriously studied it as we have the physical forces. Someday people will learn that material things do not bring happiness and are of little use in making men and women creative and powerful. Then the scientists of the world will turn their laboratories over to the study of God and prayer and the spiritual forces which as yet have hardly been scratched. When this day comes, the world will see more advancement in one generation than it has seen in the past four.

What intrigues me is that Steinmetz, an electrical engineer, in a book promoted by the greatest technology inventor of our time, is basically saying similar things about the exponential nature of coming human advancement as these AI futuristic scientists. Both Steinmetz and the AI folks acknowledge that the extreme scenarios of AI project the emergence of some type of all knowing power.

That’s heavy stuff. And fun to talk about – but I’m here. Now.

I need an affordable robot more intelligent than me in the next 6-8 weeks. (Photo courtesy of Wired,com).
I need an affordable robot more intelligent than me in the next 6-8 weeks. (Photo courtesy of Wired,com).

What’s now? Now is 1:44am and that alarm isn’t being pushed back. I haven’t even taken my shoes off yet or switched my laundry. I don’t have a human intelligence level robot. I need power. I have a Google Chromebook at 41% battery. None of my food or clothing or driving or dog-walking is yet automated. So I’m going to have to do all that shit tomorrow. Today.

There’s a lot more that I want to say – but something’s telling me not to. So for now I’ll leave you with that Cher / Peter Cetera song: