As this century progresses through its second decade, the amount of change that has been rocking and rolling its way through our lives is in a word, astounding. I am not going to list the thousands of products and programs that have become an everyday part of our lives. But if I had to top[ my list of changes with one product it would be the Smartphone.
Smartphones probably being the one item that has completely engulfed out planet from stem to stern. The changes just that one device alone has produced were really unknowable when it was first introduced to the public. The programmers and designers, and everyone on down the line of inventing the thing, turned it into a phone, a computer, a telegraph and a camera.
It since has not only become part of the vernacular, but it has added a great number of words and terms to said vernacular. Selfies, hashtag, eblast, lmao, etc. were not words we knew or used before it existed. And even though some words were around, their meanings were completely turned inside out.
The way we use our phones, at least a great percentage of us, has reshaped societal norms to an unimaginable degree. In too many cases, the use of the phone has been the cause of accidents and an undetermined number of avoidable deaths. Not everyone has the in-car phone system. As I said, some change is not for the better. We need to invent phones that won’t work behind the steering wheel of an auto, or cars that block their use.
The same process can be applied to autonomous vehicles. It’s been a rough year or so for the various versions of driverless cars. A couple of fatalities, a few fender benders and next thing you know the Governor of Arizona is pulling your permit to test in his state. It was to be expected, I suppose. The law of odds would say we’re going to have some major bumps along the road to the state of autonomous nirvana for traffic, transportation, safety and insurance costs. But we will get there. And that change will bring its own changes.
How do we pass our time while traveling now if we are not driving the car, or worried bout the person that is driving the car, whether from the front or the back seat? Do those of us who grew up driving ourselves ever really get used to being not in control of a moving 2-ton hunk of metal? Will those people who are born in to this new age of no human drivers and few if any accidents to hear, or worry about be able or willing to drive?
I hate to drone on, but those little whimsical flying things we call drones have had quite a impact. The amount of knowledge those little buggers have given the common man regarding how the world looks from above is remarkable. The aerial views that gives people a different perspective of the property they own and the neighborhood in which they live. Those views were once solely the advantage of those who could afford to pay for the pilot, plane and photography. Now a few hundred bucks will get you unbelievably accurate information from above. And we can thank the hard-working AI developers for putting that technology into the little flying spies that you can now pick up at the local electronics store.
Another change that has taken some getting used to and is still giving lawmakers fits, is deciding where and when to fly these things. Over an active forest fire in not recommended. People are getting arrested and hauled into court for flying over fire scenes and getting in the way of firefighting planes and helicopters. Not a good idea. What is a good idea is using drones to deliver products to our doorsteps, which has many advantages. Also, inventors created drones that fly into combat zones and retrieve injured soldiers without putting further human life at risk.
The biggest change I’m hoping to see with the onset of the AI era is the deciphering of truth. Our clever social network platforms have taken over life as we know it on so many levels, in some ways helpful, some humorous. Some are downright dangerous. Mostly the biggest casualty in the social networks takeover of the day-to-day world is in being able to discern what is true and what is not. The news media, from which we once called Walter Cronkite the most trusted man in America, has now been branded “fake news.” If we don’t like a piece of news reported, we can run to the corner and holler “fake news, fake news,” and then give ourselves permission to ignore it or strike back against it in some way.
We used to wait to hear what the MacNeill/Lehrer Report had to say on a subject, after what we assumed was a crack news team had broken down the story and presented us with the truth. Nowadays, many of us see a piece of information go by our eyes and ears, and then turn to Snopes.com to see if we should believe it or not.
I am hoping AI presents us with a real truth machine⎯an instantaneous answer box that will take in the information we feed it, then give us immediate odds on whether that info is correct. Let’s have a “truth referee” built with AI. Then we can have truly “smart” phones.