iCloud Today… Galactic Domination Tomorrow

With the recent release of Apple’s iCloud, it seems cloud computing is here to stay. If you’re a little behind (which is better than being a huge ass), cloud computing is simply a way of saving files to the web, instead of to your hard drive.

The idea here is redundancy. If the data is stored on one hard drive and that hard drive breaks, your data is lost. If it’s stored on 5 hard drives in the same house, and there’s a fire, your data is lost. With the cloud, your data is stored on several drives in all different locations, which allows you to access it via the web whenever you want, without running the risk of crashed drives losing your data.

This same concept is what the human species needs in order to survive. Being on Earth is like storing all of your information on a single drive. It doesn’t matter how much we archive elements of our culture, or the lexicon of knowledge we’ve accumulated over time. If a meteor, or a gamma ray were to strike the planet tomorrow, it would all be lost without a trace for a future species to discover.

The only way to avoid such a catastrophe would be to spread out to other planets, and ideally, other solar systems. Currently, there are plans in place to terraform Mars (make it Earth-like, so humans could someday move there). If humans can inhabit two planets, then the sudden destruction of one wouldn’t mean the end of human history. The more spread out our species becomes throughout the universe, the safer our species becomes.

Just another example of how humans and computers mimic and learn from each other in order to survive.

Reckless Driving? There’s an App For That Too

Technology is getting better and more portable every day, and unless you’ve been living in isolation, you’ve seen it all around. While these new gadgets are making life much easier for everyone, they are also creating quite a distraction from our surroundings.

When cell phones first began to grow in popularity, laws were quickly made to prohibit their use without a hands-free device. The misconception was that people were getting into accidents because they were driving with only one hand. We now know that this is not the reason for all the accidents because nothing changed once people started using hands-free devices.

What’s actually happening is focus that normally is 100% devoted to the road (minus distractions from the radio or people talking in the car) is now transfered over to the conversation. So, while these laws had all the right intentions, they were not solving the problem.

But now we have a new problem, which I feel is more dangerous than having a conversation while driving: texting a conversation while driving.

With texting, now people are literally taking their eyes off the road to have a conversation. This is considerably more dangerous than a loss of concentration on driving because things on the road can change very quickly, and if your eyes aren’t paying attention to it, you’re just asking for trouble.

Now, I am not even close to the first person to recognize this problem, but I would like to suggest a solution: the text away message.

For years, online messaging services have used the “away message” which send an automatic response to anyone who tries to contact you while you’re unavailable. I think it’s time that cell phones adopt this feature as a standard in text messaging service.

As you’re getting into your car, you would switch the phone into driving mode and you will not be alerted of messages until you arrive at your destination. During the trip, every text message you receive will automatically be responded to with a personalized message like “Hey, I’m driving right now, I’ll text you back in a little while.”

I’m sure there are some apps out there for phones that implement similar features to this. But I’m not talking about an optional add-on for people who are obviously responsible enough to search for the app. I’m talking about a standard feature, just like silent mode. On top of this, these automatic responses should not be charged to your account, but instead come free as a part of any cell phone plan.

All of these things (standard feature, no charge for texts, easy to switch to) are very important because any hurdle placed between a person and desired action lowers the chance of them actually doing it. If this was a hard-to-find/use feature, it might as well not exist.

AI and Personality

I’m very interested in artificial intelligence, and I was thinking about an issue that the development of such a thing might have. As much as we can program a computer to have artificial intelligence, an artificial personality is a very different story.

Since personality is widely believed to be a combination of genetics (which is the part we can somewhat emulate) and childhood experience, it would be a daunting task to create one artificially.

When we build a robot with artificial intelligence, we are basically building something which will not develop or grow. It will not have a family and it will not have social interactions with a child-like brain. Because of this, it would have a missing ingredient in personality. Yes, it might be able to understand things, but it will not have any personality bias, so it will be a creature that runs on pure logic.

While I am a huge fan of logic, I’m sure this would make for a very dry conversation. No major breakthroughs or anything here. Just a thought.

It’s The Future, You Know What That Means… 3D?

Back in the 1950’s, 3D movies became a fun, futuristic trend. It was so futuristic and fun, especially for that time. Over there years, though, this has grown to be less and less popular and the most common place to see a room full of people in 3D glasses is an amusement park.

However, this seems to be changing suddenly. With the film Avatar being such a huge hit in 3D, everyone seems to be jumping on the 3D bandwagon. This past weekend was the Consumer Electronics Show for 2010 and the common denominator amongst TV companies has been the introduction of 3D HDTV and 3D blu-ray players. Along with this, some 3D channels are also in the process of going on the air in 2010, such as ESPN 3D.

So what does this mean? It means our current HDTV’s and blu-ray players are becoming obsolete and we will soon need to invest in 3D technology. But more importantly than this, it means these companies expect everyone to wear 3D glasses. Yep, still with the 3D glasses.

So far, I’ve heard one company mention that these glasses might be in the range of $100. Is all of this investing really worth it to the average person to see their TV in 3D? I really don’t think it is. The one thing these companies are forgetting is the power of convenience.

Let’s take a realistic situation:

A group of eight people decide after going out to come back to someone’s house and watch a movie. Either the host needs to own eight pairs of 3D glasses (a lovely $800 investment), or this group will need to stop at each person’s house to pick up their own glasses. This isn’t exactly an ideal situation.

I just can’t see this craze catching on, and I’m very surprised that so many companies are investing in the technology. Besides the money aspect, does anyone really want to sit around watching TV with goofy-looking glasses on? This whole idea just screams inconvenience. I was all for HDTV, and I’m looking forward to Ultra HD, but this 3D HDTV business just feels gimmicky.

Video Games and Immortality

I’ve touched on this subject before, but I believe this analogy is worth having its own post. The idea of immortality, although intriguing, would actually be a terrible thing to have. Humans naturally love the idea of living forever because evolution has given us a survival instinct, but actually having it isn’t all its cracked up to be.

How do I know? Video games. If you’ve ever had a tough time playing a game, chances are, at some point, you’ve resorted to using an invincibility code (not to be confused with “infinite lives”). When you become invincible in a game, you simply can’t lose (unless you can’t solve some sort of puzzle, but you get the idea). With infinite lives, you can lose and just keep repeating the level until you beat it.

When you can’t lose in a video game, it becomes completely boring real quick. At this point, you’re just going through the motions until the game is over. What’s the fun in that? If I wanted to follow instructions, I’d build something.

I noticed this when I downloaded The Simpsons arcade game on my computer. In the arcade it was fun because you only had a few quarters and beating it was practically impossible. When downloaded, all you have to do is hit a key to “insert a quarter’” and you keep playing endlessly. At first this seemed amazing because I could finally play the whole game and see the later levels, but I got really bored, quickly, with just pressing the same couple of buttons over and over as I walked to the right side of the screen.

I thought to myself “Maybe the game was just more fun when I was a kid.” But that’s not the case at all. It was fun when I could lose, when I could die. Life has no meaning without death. The only thing that gives life its value, is its time limit. If you had forever to do everything, you would feel like you were going through the motions just like in the video game.

The expression “time is money” is completely true. Time is very valuable to us because we have a finite amount of it. How we spend that time is very important to us because we can’t get that time back. That’s why everyone gets paid based on time, it’s a trade. If you make your time infinite, your time loses all value and so does your life. The same applies to money because if you had an endless amount of money (different from just a lot of money), you wouldn’t enjoy anything you spent it on because it all loses its value.

As always, agree or disagree, that’s my take on the matter.

The Unattainable Abilities of Time and Space Travel

There are two very unique concepts that have been debated over by scientists, philosophers, and common people for quite some time. I’m referring to the possibility of time travel and the existence of intelligent life on other planets. Although very different, they each have a common argument against them that is hard to dispute:

“If there is such thing as either, why have we not been visited by people from the future or extraterrestrials?”

As far as time travel goes, the question is very simple. If time travel is possible, at least one person would eventually travel back to our time, or some point in the past. We would not have to wait around for them because they are not restricted by time as we are. If at any point in the future, any species figures out how to travel through time, we should have theoretically seen them already.

A very similar argument is raised with the question of extraterrestrials. If there is intelligent life on other planets, there has to be at least one life form that began advancing in space technology long before us. If this is the case, they should have figured out how to reach us by now. Even if not by physically coming to Earth, then at least with some sort of signal that we can receive. But, just as we haven’t been contacted by people from the future, so haven’t we been contacted by extraterrestrials.

So again, we find ourselves asking “why not?” Well, the simpler of the two explanations is that of time travel, and so that is where I will begin.

In order to create a “time machine” (I put that idea in quotes because time travel might not require a machine at all), technology needs to be extremely advanced. At the very least, it needs to be more advanced than anything any of us have ever seen. To achieve such technology, a few things are necessary: First, there needs to be a species that is capable of reasoning. Second, there needs to be enough time for that species to evolve to a point of understanding such a concept. Finally, third, there needs to be enough of the correct resources to create the technology.

No one knows for sure how life began on Earth, but we do know how humans became such intelligent creatures, and that is by means of evolution. Evolution is a wonderful process in that it creates some incredible species, but it has its share of side-effects. Natural selection allows the “fittest” organisms to survive and pass on their genes. By fit, I only mean fit to survive long enough to reproduce though. Because of this, people have some primitive qualities to ensure survival. Since survival is so important, war is inevitable because there aren’t enough resources for everyone; competition is only natural.

Another side-effect of evolution is religion. Proof that religion is a natural first explanation for our world is that completely isolated civilizations from all different points in time, all around the world, have come to this same conclusion. That does not mean it is the correction explanation, only that it is the most primitive explanation. Once this idea has entered a civilization, it is extremely hard to get rid of it. Through evolution, children are very malleable and gullible. They need to be in order to survive, since a child who does not believe their parents who warn them of cliffs will just walk off one and find out. At this point, is already too late to pass on their genes. At a young age, parents teach their children the ideas of their religions and naturally, the children believe them. This cycle is a very difficult one to break.

As people get more and more intelligent, we discover and create new technology. Much of this technology is very beneficial to the species, but others are only beneficial to individuals and not the species as a whole. I’m talking about weapons of war. As technology increases, so does the effectiveness of weapons. This probably would not happen if there were no wars, but because of our survival instincts, war is inevitable. Now add religion into the equation and war is not only inevitable, but also perpetual and extraordinarily dangerous. Certain religions tell their followers that dying in the name of your religion will promise an eternity of bliss in the after-life. This goes against evolution by eliminating the fear of death and need for survival.

In the past, these by-products of evolution were not detrimental to the world as a whole because the fighting was more localized. If there was a war or any type of conflict, it did not affect people halfway around the world. However, as technology improves, the weapons it creates are no longer compatible with our natural survival instincts. The best example is the invention of nuclear weapons. In 1938, Albert Einstein figured out how to split an atom, which was a process that could be used to generate power. Instead, it was immediately implemented in the invention of the atom bomb. By 1945, the first atom bomb was dropped, and the world would never be the same. Einstein later admitted that his greatest mistake was urging President Roosevelt to begin the construction of such a weapon.

Keep in mind, this devastating weapon was invented in the age of radios. We now live in the age of iPods, and our weapons can easily destroy the world if ever used. What kind of weapons would exist in the age of “time machines”?

Here’s my theory:

The reason we have never been visited by people from the future is not because time travel is impossible, but rather because no species ever survives to the point where their technology is great enough to attain it. This is definitely the case for humans, but humans are only a product of evolution. There is no way for a species to advance to the point where they can create a “time machine” without first evolving. By the very definition of evolution, this species will have a survival instinct, war, and religious motivation. Couple this with modern weapons and we have a recipe for disaster. It is actually somewhat of a paradox.

As far as space travel goes, extraterrestrials would have to evolve by these same standards to get to the point where their technology is advanced enough to contact us by ship or any other means. They haven’t contacted us for the same reason we have not contacted them, and for the same reason we will never travel through time: we will destroy ourselves before we ever get the chance.

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Pick a Width and Stick to It

There has always been a problem with getting movies off the big screen and into the living room. In a movie theater, the screen is wide, while standard TVs are closer to being a square-shape (4:3 aspect ratio, to get technical). So to make the movie fit on a TV, the edges need to be cut off.

Then DVDs came out, and most of them were the original wide-screen versions of the movies. This meant you got the full picture, but there were annoying black bars on the top and bottom of the screen (which a great deal of people actually thought were cutting off the movie, when in fact it was the opposite). So naturally, the wide-screen HDTVs that were coming out seemed like a perfect match for a DVD player. However, the DVDs didn’t look so great on an HDTV because they aren’t high definition quality. So we completely skipped a standard definition wide-screen TV. This would have been the perfect TV to watch a DVD on, but for some reason it just never happened.

So finally, now we have Blu-ray movies. These are really the perfect format for movies on an HDTV. The picture is clear, and the widescreen movie fits perfectly on a widescreen TV.

Oh no, wait. It doesn’t.

I’m not sure who thought this would be a good idea, but plenty of movies are actually shot in an even wider aspect ratio than 16:9 (the size of an HDTV). So now, if you watch one of those movies on a standard sized TV, more than half the screen is black. If you watch the movie on an HDTV, you’re back to having black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.

What is the point of shooting a movie this wide if there is no TV in existence that matches the width? Artistic reasons just don’t make up for the fact that our TVs are one size and the movies are another. How much wider are movies going to get? Are we one day going to be buying TVs that stretch across an entire wall and resemble tape measures?

Can’t we just pick a width for movies and leave it that way? I love the resolution improvements, and no one can argue that HD picture isn’t beautiful to look at; but I see no reason why we can’t keep improving the picture quality while maintaining the aspect ratio. Seriously.

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Anonymity is Powerful

It’s amazing how much of a role anonymity plays in the world. People act very differently when their identity is hidden or when the identity of others are hidden.

There are a ton of examples of this from people in tinted windows driving more dangerously to kids misbehaving on Halloween because their costumes make them feel less responsible for their actions. However, there are a few examples I’ve decided to concentrate on.

The first is what we eat. Those of us who are not vegetarians will buy meat in the store, cook it, and enjoy eating it. Let’s throw in a twist now. Would you buy chicken if the package had a photo of the chicken when it was alive? How about if the package had the chicken’s name on it?

Chicken

How about we include a list of it’s favorite bands or sports it liked? Obviously, this is far-fetched for a chicken, but suddenly it would seem sick to eat this. The chicken is no longer an anonymous bunch of meat. If there were ever a law to include information like this on all packages of chicken, it would put them all out of business.

One problem I have is how people sympathize mostly with living things that have brains. A carrot is a living thing, but I’ve never seen someone against the killing of carrots. Why not? Because it doesn’t have enough similarities with us humans? It’s tough to see where we should draw the line.

Another example is the Internet. People will often do things they would never have the courage to do in real life when they’re online. They might be playing a video game and say ethnic slurs because they don’t know anyone and they know no one knows them. It’s a perfect anonymous situation. (Want a great example? Check out my comments section sometime)

As I said, there are plenty of other examples, so keep an eye out for them. I strongly believe that if driving were less anonymous, we would have a lot less reckless drivers on the road. Notice how people are a lot more careful when they walk? That’s not an accident.

It’s a Small World

The world is shrinking. No, I don’t mean the size of the planet is literally getting smaller. I mean that places far away from each other are in contact with each other more than ever.

100 years ago, if someone told you they knew someone from Japan, you would expect an amazing story to explain it. They sailed across the whole world for months and months to do something important in Japan. Today, the story can be as simple as “I was in a chat room” or “We played a video game online together”.

All of this easy communication is making “foreign” countries feel a lot less foreign.

How do we meet people? Here are some basic conditions needed to meet a friend:

  • They need to live a short enough distance away so that you could visit them in a reasonable amount of time.
  • They need to share something in common with you.
  • They need to speak the same language as you.

All of these conditions used to limit you to meeting people in your neighborhood. Once the car was invented, that vicinity expanded. The same goes for the airplane.

Now that we have the Internet, meeting people from anywhere in the world is easy, and maybe even easier than meeting someone from your town. Normally if you meet someone online or in a video game, you already share an interest: whatever “place” you met them or what kind of games you like to play. You have easy access to the person, because they’re so close to you that you don’t even need to leave your house. Throw in a common language and you’re all set.

Right now, new airplane technology is being developed, which would shorten the amount of time a trip would take by hours. Imagine flying across the world in a few minutes, or maybe an hour. Suddenly, someone who lives across an ocean takes you just as long to visit as someone who lives a few towns over.

As technology grows, societies grow closer. The only way for this planet to become truly peaceful is for people to learn from each other. If we keep talking to people who are different from us, we’ll learn that we actually have a lot in common.

I see the future as a place where race is no longer an issue because we will all reproduce with people who are different from us until there is only one race left: the human race. I only wish I could live to see that future.