Posts Tagged ‘Alexa’

Letter From Claverack 05/04/2017 The time is nigh…

May 4, 2017

Well, the time is nigh.  Today Republicans voted, successfully, on “Repeal and Replace,” hoping to end the Affordable Care Act with their own American Health Care Act.  “Obamacare,” long despised by Republicans, may be gone and they will have had their way and many of them will be holding their breath that it does not go badly wrong because if it does, the piper will need to be paid.

We will find out if, as President Trump says, pre-existing conditions will be covered or as Democrats are saying, they will not.  If they are covered, it does seem coverage will be much more expensive.

Not a fan of Jimmy Kimmel, I was profoundly moved by his discussion of his newborn son’s heart surgery.  If you haven’t seen it, you need to watch it.  It is from the heart. [Yes, pun intended.]  Please look here.

As I ponder this, I am, not surprisingly, listening to jazz, being all hygge at the cottage, sitting in my favorite corner on the couch, starting preparations for a Friday night dinner party.  Have I mentioned I tend to look at the Food Section of the New York Times before I read the news?  First thing, comfort and coffee, and then I hit the hard stuff.

Yesterday marked the month anniversary of my once a week radio program.  My first guest was Jeff Cole, CEO of the Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School of Communications, part of USC.  We talked futures.  How we are changing and being changed by technology.

His great concern, and I share it, is how we will, as individuals and society, adapt to the coming advent of AI, artificial intelligence, which is already shaping our lives.  Last night, as I was heading to bed, I paused and asked Alexa to set two alarms for me and they went off flawlessly, a soft chirping sound in the dark which could be eliminated by a command:  Alexa!  Snooze! And she snoozes.

I am experimenting with Siri, changing her responses from American English to British English.  All fun and games until we get to the moment when the machines decide we are superfluous.  Think the Terminator movies or the Hyperion novels which, to me, are more likely than the Terminator scenario. [In some respects, particularly Book One.]

Since I was very young, I’ve been a space enthusiast. Stephen Hawking, the phenomenon of a physicist, has warned us we have about a hundred years to get off the planet.

We could do it if we put all our energies to it but I don’t think jihadists are going to put down their guns to get us into space.

Outside, there are soft sounds and the trees are blooming.  In the morning when I wake, I thank God that I get to look out at the creek and am here, in Claverack, a place that centers my soul as no other place ever has.  When I look out, I am sometimes nostalgic for the time fifteen years ago when the geese formed a flotilla on my waters.  They are mostly gone now.

It sometimes reminds me of an episode of “Star Trek: Next Generation” in which Jean Luc’s brain is infused with the memories of a dead civilization and one of the signs of their passing was the drying up of a creek.  Occasionally, I stand on the deck and think: if the creek is gone, so are we.

However, today the creek still flows.

Generally, I am not fond of George Will, the conservative writer.  Today, I read an article of his that encapsulates my ongoing sense of unreality.  Read it here.

Encased in the safety of the cottage, I am doing my best to live in hope because we must live in hope. Hope is what has driven the race forward; it is what has brought millions of immigrants to our shore, who have shaped the country in which we live.  My great-grandparents, on my father’s side, were among them as were my grandparents on my mother’s side.  They came to the United States, buoyed by a sense of chance, of opportunity.

It’s hard for me to think that could change.

 

 

 

Letter From Claverack 03.05.2017 From a very worried place…

March 6, 2017

It is a very chill night, here at the cottage. Jazz is playing softly.  It came to me tonight, that Alexa has been learning about my jazz likes and so when I say “Alexa, play jazz…”  Well, it seems she’s learning my favorites.  I am interfacing with artificial intelligence.

Tonight, I am spending it with me.  And I feel like I’m good company tonight.

It is good to hygge at the cottage tonight.

The noise in my world is incredible right now.  My closest friends on Facebook send numerous posts every day, every hour about our political situation.  Dinner last night was non-stop. At today’s brunch at the Dot, his name wafted through the air. My client is the Miller Center for the Presidency.

Donald Trump owns the conversation, ladies and gentlemen, in my head anyway.

His ratings are through the roof!

And that’s what he likes.

For twenty minutes, I have been sitting here working to find an un-trite way of saying:  I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

This is a global phenomenon, our President Trump.  He’s a global big deal and I can’t believe what’s happening.  Come on, whatever side of the aisle you’re on, this is not a normal presidency.

Just isn’t.

Every tweet generates frenzy.

And the Russians are coming…

Every time I turn around, there are the Russians.  Did anyone in the Trump camp NOT talk to the Russians?  Enquiring minds want to know.

Everyday there is a Trump story that carries the news beast through another day.  On good account, I have it that people in the news business are run ragged these days.

Let’s face it: we have a ratings obsessed President.

And his ratings are HUGE.  Which is what he likes.

It’s just not like anything I have ever, ever seen.

It’s not like anything any of us have seen.  If anyone has, let me know, please.

The weekend has been consumed by parsing Mr. Trump’s tweeting that the Obama Administration ordered wiretapping of his phones during the last days before the elections.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said she’s “seen no evidence” and that we need to deal with evidence, not statements.  Bravo.

Senator Richard Burr, also a Republican, and Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said they would follow where the evidence leads in the Russian investigation.  Kudos to you, too.

Senator Rubio posits the President may have information the rest of us don’t.

And, I think, if he does, he should reveal it.

Right now, as I’ve said, one of my clients is the Miller Center for the Presidency at the University of Virginia.  Because of my work with them, I find myself thinking about the presidency and our president a lot.  A lot.

At church today, I heard very little of Mother Eileen’s sermon because my mind was racing on what I should say in a report to them I need to submit this week.

While I am very hygge in my cottage, I am more than a little unnerved by what is going on in Washington.  And that is seeping deeper into my life, the concern I have for the fabric of the country in which I grew up and in which I live.

Oh, yes, I know we will get through this. And I want to be sure we get through this in as healthy a way as possible.

I am one little man, sitting in a cottage on the Claverack Creek in upstate New York.  And I, one little man, can do things to influence how all this plays out.  God help me, I am politically active.  I called my Congressman’s office from Saba to articulate my concerns.

It is time for participatory democracy, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.  Which means dialogue.

And right now, we aren’t dialoguing.

We’re living in an either/or world and that’s not healthy.

We need to pay attention.

Really, we do.

 

 

 

Letter From Claverack 01 15 2017 Bemused but not amused…

January 15, 2017

It is early evening in Claverack; the lights have been turned on over the creek and I have asked Alexa to play the “Pop Classical” station so music is filling the cottage.  It is an idyllic night after a very nice day.

Waking before the alarm this morning, I cleared my email inboxes, showered and gathered things together for the food pantry at the church.  Post church, I went to the Red Dot and then to Ca’Mea to meet Larry and Alicia and it was a pleasant country afternoon.

Against the backdrop of the pleasant country afternoon is a tension about the political scene.

One of my neighbors, who, when he met me was a bit uncomfortable with me and who has become a very good friend, asked me why the LGBTQ community was concerned about Trump.  He voted for neither Hillary or The Donald, loathing them equally.

My response was that it wasn’t so much Trump’s views on gays but the views of the people who are around him.  Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana until Friday, then Vice President of the United States, worked to enact strident laws that jeopardized the rights of gays in his state.  Jeff Sessions, who is by all accounts is a gentleman of the first order in social situations, is homophobic, anti-immigration and anti some other important things.

My friend had no idea. And was concerned when he heard this.

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a legendary figure in the Civil Rights movement, is not attending Trump’s inauguration because he does not feel Trump in a legitimate President.  I find that unfortunate and counterproductive.

And I find unfortunate and counterproductive Donald Trump’s Twitter storm against Representative Lewis, demeaning his part in the Civil Rights movement.  The man nearly lost his life on the bridge into Selma.  To denigrate him as Trump has is unfortunate and not in keeping with someone who is about to enter the highest office in the land.

Stephen Colbert discussed “truthiness.”  Donald Trump exercised a bit of it in his depiction of Representative Lewis’ district as crime ridden.  In fact, he represents one of the most affluent areas of Atlanta.

There is a good part of me that is sitting back and watching what is happening unfold with a sense of wonder, a sense of OMG is this real?  And it is…

Every time I turn around, I am astounded by our President Elect.

His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is going to be a Senior Advisor.  Is there not something somewhere about nepotism?  Ivanka may be the de facto First Lady as Melania seems to be content to remain in Trump Tower.

Who is this person?

Andy Borowitz, comedian and raconteur, described him as the “Kremlin Employee of the Month.”

The awful thing is that he MIGHT be.

The VERY unsubstantiated report about his actions with the Russians are, at one time, very amusing and incredibly disconcerting.  It has spawned a cottage industry in defining “golden showers.”

Right now, I am sitting back and watching it unfold.  Called me bemused, call me amused, call me frightened, call me whatever you like and I think we need to go back into the early 19th century to find anything similar.

Oh, wow!

And I will continue to watch with a carefully bemused eye that is also carefully turned on to what the new President might do as he needs, more than most Presidents, to be held accountable.

Please help with that.  Please.

 

 

Letter From Claverack 08 2017 And the robots are coming to get us?

January 9, 2017

Outside the cottage, it is a cold winter night.  It’s sixteen degrees and feels like three, per my Weather Channel App.  Tonight, I will be leaving the kitchen cupboard doors open and the faucets dripping.  So far, so good.  No frozen pipes yet.

Soft jazz is playing on the Echo and its Alexa technology was the hit of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Auto manufacturers are integrating Alexa into their vehicles.  It is, apparently, the “Killer App” of this year’s CES, which was, apparently, all about technology coming to automobiles.

Alan Murray, who is CEO of Fortune Magazine and Chief Content Officer for Time, Inc. writes a daily blog called the “CEO Daily.”  I suggest you subscribe.  He wrote this week, from CES, that all companies are becoming technology companies.  It also appears, to me, that all companies are becoming media companies.  It is a huge transformation that is going on.

Despite all the rhetoric about jobs being lost to China and Mexico [and some are], the biggest danger to jobs everywhere is the rise of Artificial Intelligence.  A Japanese insurance company is laying off several dozen people because it has found software they feel will do a better job than the people, an offshoot of IBM’s super brain Watson.

Because of where the cottage is located, I have trouble with my mobile signal.  I have a micro-cell.  It has been giving me trouble tonight.  When I phoned AT&T, I had an entire conversation with a gentleman who was not, in fact, anyone. He was an AI interface.

There is an Echo in my home and so I am experiencing the Alexa technology first hand.  Amazing!

Great fun and a little disconcerting.  And more and more jobs will be lost to AI in the years to come because we are looking at technology to replace us.  There are a lot of Uber drivers out there but what happens to them when self-driving cars become common?  What happens to all the long-haul truck drivers when there are self-driving trucks?  What happens to all the crews of ships when we have self-piloting ships?

We are on the way to being replaced by technology.  And we need to figure this out.  Because it is happening.

Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as President of these United States.  A lot of folks voted for him, I think, because he was addressing the issue of job degradation which has been going on but, I think, it was a backward-looking view because the real worry right now, globally, is not moving jobs off shore.  That is so 2000.  It is about the fact we are losing jobs to Artificial Intelligence.  That is so 2017.  And I don’t hear Trump addressing that.

Since I was a kid, I have loved science fiction and I am living in an age which would have been science fiction when I was a child.  Excuse me, I just ask Alexa for a new jazz station and I get it. I ask her for the weather; I get it.  It’s amazing and now we must deal with the job realities of what we’re doing because jobs will disappear as we create more and more devices to take care of us.

In airports, we have all seen the iPad devices that let us order what we want which is then delivered by a human.  In about two years, there will be robots which will take care of that.  What happens to those human servers?

Oh, and does anyone remember Hoot-Smalley?  It was a bill passed in Congress to restrict trade after the stock market crashed.  It created the Great Depression and I am fearing we will do something like this with the Trump Administration.

Look, I’m lucky.  I am in the third act of my life; I have ridden the great American boom of the last half of the Twentieth Century to the max.  Not rich, not poor, full of life experiences I never thought I would have.  Every day I do my best to remember to be grateful.

And I hope I am not Louis XV, saying “after me, the deluge.”

Letter From Claverack 11 25 2016 Thankfulness after Thanksgiving…

November 25, 2016

Outside the window, it is grey, darkish and chill.  Judy Collins is playing on my Echo [Alexa!  Play Judy Collins!  And she does.]. It is the day after Thanksgiving, the kind of day to curl up with a good book, a blanket and a fire, which I will do after finishing this missive.

My friend, Sarah, sent me something she had received from one of her dearest friends, who now lives in a Buddhist monastery.  “May you enjoy a peaceful day of gratitude for everything that is good and right in the world.”

A great thought for the day after Thanksgiving.  There is, after all, much that is not right in the world.

The list of things wrong in this world is endless.

And so, too, is the list of all the things right in the world.  When I wake in the morning, I do my best to take a moment to be grateful that I have awakened, that I live, that I am surrounded these days by the soft winter beauty that is my little patch of earth.

Yesterday, Lionel, Pierre, their dog, Marcel, and I wandered up the road to Larry and Alicia’s home, with a view down to the Hudson River.  We ate, drank, were merry, and grateful and then gathered around the baby grand piano and Lionel “bashed” out tunes to which all but me sang along.  I cannot carry a tune; sitting instead on the sofa, I listened with joy.

We stayed last night at the Keene Farm, Larry and Alicia’s guest house, a wonderful, smaller house than their home at Mill Brook Farm, which is the main residence. That is a house with its foundations in the Dutch settlers in the 1600’s, added onto in the 18th Century, restored in the 20th, added onto again in the 21st.  As we left there today, I was thinking I have what I have and I am happy with what I have, content in this third act time.

One of the things I have in this world are wonderful friends.

On Holidays, I have a tradition of texting everyone I have texted in the last year with a “Happy Thanksgiving” or a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year.”  Yesterday, my friend Jeffrey texted back he was grateful I was in his life and tears sprung to my eyes.  We’ve known each other a long time; been a constant in each other’s lives.  It felt so good to know.

Kevin, my nephew, texted me that he loved me as did my godson.  Smiles played on my lips.  Two such wonderful men; so lucky to have them in my life.

After last night’s feast, we brunched today at the Keene Farm; Lionel and I cooked while Pierre walked, Marcel sniffing around, enjoying the wonders of a new place.

The world is scary.  Terrible things are happening and I know that.  I am sourly aware that a bomb exploded yesterday in Baghdad, killing Iranian pilgrims.  In Iran, a train derailment took 43 lives.  Refugees are pawns in the political war of wills between the EU and Turkey.

And outside my window, the Claverack Creek slowly makes it way to the pond at the edge of Jim Ivory’s land, full this year of geese, after their absence for nearly five years. It feels a little order has returned to the universe.

Yesterday, a bald eagle swooped up the creek and took momentary residence on a tree limb across from my window.  Then he spread his wings wide and soared up creek, to the north, seeking I know not what.

The bald eagle, symbol of the American Republic, a troubled Republic we all know, yet I quote my great friend Jan Hummel:  we will survive this.  We survived Warren G. Harding, after all, and Grover Cleveland, who was a scoundrel of the worst sort.

Google it…

Dried, dead leaves scatter my deck, an Adirondack chair sits looking lonely over the creek, the dull grey of the skies has continued now for two days.  Now I am listening to Joan Baez, thinking back, gratefully, to those days in my youth when I first heard Judy Collins and Joan Baez.

We are all tender right now.  Being grateful for the good things in our lives will help us heal, I think.

 

 

 

Letter From New York 01 28 15 Pondering Artificial Intelligence

January 28, 2015

Heading down to New York, the train is running alongside the Hudson River, a sheet of white as yesterday’s snow accumulated on the river’s ice. The sun gleams down, reflecting enough that it causes eyes to squint when looking out. It is a scene of rough beauty.

In the city tonight, there will be a reunion of several of us who worked on some programs together for the Discovery Times Channel during its brief and glorious moment. Two of the people, Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill, have gone on to be nominated twice for Academy Awards for their documentaries. Diana Sperrazza is still at Discovery, working as an Executive Producer for the Investigation Discovery Channel.

We don’t get together often so this is a special occasion.

I will slip into the city today and will probably head home tomorrow or at the latest early Friday.

Traversing south I am passing the mightiness that is West Point, a severe redoubt on the opposite bank. It is hard to be tired of this ride, one of the most beautiful in America according to most who categorize such things.

Along with the NY Times, I often check out the stories on my phone’s BBC app, an interesting re-cap of news with a British perspective. The story I found this morning most interesting was one that was headlined: AI will not kill us, says Microsoft.

How can one resist that kind of headline?

I couldn’t.

Eric Horovitz, Microsoft’s Research Chief, has an opinion markedly in contrast with some others, including physicist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, both of who are warning that Artificial Intelligence could supersede us and destroy us. Hawking has said that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” Musk has put up ten million dollars to prevent it from happening.

We are experiencing this first wave of artificial intelligence in things such as Siri, the voice-activated assistant on our iPhones or Contana on Windows Phones, which will be integrated into the next version of the Windows OS. There is a little device from Amazon called the Echo, which comes equipped with Alexa. She is the subject of an article in today’s USA Today, outlining her benefits and her limitations.

My friends, Lionel and Pierre, have an Echo and I’ve been getting to know Alexa the last couple of weeks. She’s very friendly. Her voice is silkier than Siri and she plays music well. She answers basic questions but you can’t have a conversation with her the way one could with Data, the humanoid robot of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But you can sense it’s coming.

It’s both exciting and a little eerie. We are getting tastes of things that will come. And come they will. Because we can make them happen, we will make them happen. One day we’ll be having a conversation with Alexa’s descendants and the next they may be plotting to rid the planet of the messiness of humans. People like Horovitz suspect that one-day machines will be self-aware and where will we be then?

Back to Stephen Hawking, who has said, “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” That’s a sobering thought: being superseded. Elon Musk thinks, “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” Ouch!

Mephistopheles, get away!

According to the BBC, Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the Spectrum Computer, believes it is unavoidable that artificial intelligences will wipe out mankind. Double ouch!

But can AI appreciate the wonders of a ride down the Hudson River the way I can? We don’t know that yet. If they become self-aware, perhaps they will.

Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov had his robots built with three unbreakable rules. “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”

I wonder if those who are developing AI have thought about including The Three Laws into their work? Might be a safeguard from The Terminator.