Guest-blog: David Priseman – The future of technology in home-care for the elderly

David Priseman

Technology is currently critical to home health care. Future advances in home health care technologies have the potential not only to facilitate the role of home health care within the overall health care system but also to help foster community-based independence for individuals.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, David Priseman, who is an accomplished Executive Director. David had a career in consultancy and banking, including spells abroad with two major European banks and has worked for several years in the field of private equity and alternative finance as well as an advisor to SMEs. He has considerable board experience and currently chairs a mid-sized care home group and is a non-executive director of a small but ambitious technology company. He has a particular interest in how technology can address the challenges of the care sector, which is often slow to adopt innovation.

David is going to discuss with us today the future of technology in home-care for the elderly.

Both councils and families strive to keep the elderly living in their own home for as long as possible. Councils see a simple cost advantage in doing so, whilst families also like the idea that mum (statistically, it is usually mum) can still live at home.

However the reality of a single elderly person living at home on her own can be far from the rosy ideal. There is an alternative image of a harassed care worker rushing into an elderly person’s home, quickly heating up a tin of baked beans then 15 minutes later rushing out of the door. Yet this might be the only contact the person has with anyone until the same or a different care worker rushes by the next day.

Domiciliary care, like residential care, is difficult to provide effectively and profitably. Companies are handing back council care contracts as they cannot operate at the fee levels on offer (1). Staff recruitment and retention is a permanent challenge.

Councils are reluctant or unable to pay more than £15/hour, which is not financially viable for home-care providers, who now have to pay employees a higher minimum wage as well as their travel costs. However it can be viable at £20/hour. With care home costs around the £1,000/week level, half this amount would buy 25 hours of home-care per week. As the number of residential care beds is in slight decline whilst the number of elderly people is projected to rise steeply, this implies that the number of elderly people living at home will also rise. With this could come a significant growth in the self-payer home-care market.

People living at home are exposed to the risk of physical vulnerability, slow and inappropriate care delivery and social isolation. However the recent development of new technologies may in combination significantly improve the social and care experience for such people.

The unpredictability of the number of hours worked together with the short term notice of rotas and sudden changes in rotas are a major cause of high home-care worker turnover (2) and a headache for domiciliary care providers. However a range of competing software and apps have now been developed to mitigate (though not remove) this challenge. This can improve the efficiency of staff scheduling from a provider’s view point, addressing one of the main sources of dissatisfaction of employees whilst also introducing flexibility for the elderly resident.

Many elderly people have traditionally had a regular, perhaps weekly, phone call with their children. Some now conduct this through Sype. In addition, some families have installed a videocam or webcam in their parent’s home, usually in the kitchen or lounge/dining room, so they can see mum. This helps to maintain social contact and give reassurances about mum’s safety and wellbeing.

The development of ‘wearable technology’ should become more widespread. Currently the dominant application is for fitness monitoring during exercise, however it will increasingly move over to healthcare monitoring. This can be a watch or a monitor which is worn as an arm panel or in the future may be embedded in clothing; in all cases it measures certain of the wearer’s vital signs.
At present, these are mostly used in hospitals to reduce the requirement of nurses, of whom there is a well-documented shortage, to conduct routine patient checks. Instead, the data are transmitted to a cloud-based server and if a vital sign reading crosses a warning threshold this immediately signals an alert. In time, these devices will migrate to the residential setting.
This will speed up the awareness and treatment of a wearer’s condition. Major medical devices companies such as Medtronics and GE are active in this area, which has also seen technology start ups enter the market, such as EarlySense and Snap40. (3)

The internet of things (IoT) is rapidly increasing the number of internet-connected devices in the home. This can be used in a number of ways to improve the safety of elderly people living at home. For example, many people get up, go to the toilet, have a cup of tea and open the curtains. Sensors can detect whether or not the toilet has been flushed, the kettle boiled and the curtains opened, and if any of these things has not happened by say 9am then an alert would be triggered. (4)

One of the main problems facing the elderly living alone is loneliness and the lack of contact with others. Here, a combination of technologies is emerging to provide at least a partial solution. Awareness has recently increased of Amazon’s Alexa voice-controlled system which can search the internet, answer questions and respond to simple commands. Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are similar and rival devices.
Owing to improvements in voice recognition and AI, it will increasingly be possible to have an interactive ‘conversation’ with such devices. At some point, it may be possible to combine this with the face of a person on a screen or even a hologram of a person in the room to create the impression that a human is having a conversation with and maybe even developing a relationship with an intelligent machine-based ‘person’.
This idea has been explored in television and film, for example the science-fiction drama Her when a man develops a romantic relationship with his computer’s feminised operating system (5). Soon, it may become reality and even commonplace.

Finally, more than one of these technologies may combine in a way that provides care monitoring, practical assistance and companionship. Developed countries all have aging populations so the need to find solutions is urgent and many companies and universities are conducting research into this area, such as robotics with AI (6). New market opportunities are emerging to integrate and package appropriate technology solutions.

The vulnerable elderly living on their own at home have often been poorly served to date. Yet the number of such people is poised to continue to rise steeply. However a number of technologies are now being developed in parallel to tackle the problems they face. The result may be an improved care environment for the elderly at home: safer, reliable, better supported and less isolated. Such a future could be with us sooner than we think.

You can contact David Priseman on LinkedIn or by email: davidpriseman @ btconnect.com (remove spaces).

References

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39321579
2. http://timewise.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/1957-Timewise-Caring-by-Design-report-Under-200MB.pdf
3. http://www.earlysense.com/ and http://www.snap40.com/
4. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/internet-caring/ and https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/elderly-independent-smart-home/
5. http://www.herthemovie.com/#/about
6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39255244

Robots are surely not going to destroy the planet, or are they?

Elon Musk, the mastermind behind SpaceX and Tesla, believes that artificial intelligence is “potentially more dangerous than nukes,” imploring all of humankind “to be super careful with AI,” unless we want the ultimate fate of humanity to closely resemble Judgment Day from Terminator. Personally, I think Musk is being a little futuristic in his thinking after all, we have survived more than 60 years of the threat of thermonuclear mutually assured destruction but still, it is worth considering Musk’s words in greater detail, and clearly he has a point.

Musk made his comments on Twitter back in 2014, after reading Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. The book deals with the eventual creation of a machine intelligence (artificial general intelligence, AGI) that can rival the human brain, and our fate thereafter. While most experts agree that a human-level AGI is mostly inevitable by this point it’s just a matter of when Bostrom contends that humanity still has a big advantage up its sleeve: we get to make the first move. This is what Musk is referring to when he says we need to be careful with AI: we’re rapidly moving towards a Terminator-like scenario, but the actual implementation of these human-level AIs is down to us. We are the ones who will program how the AI actually works. We are the ones who can imbue the AI with a sense of ethics and morality. We are the ones who can implement safeguards, such as Asimov’s three laws of robotics, to prevent an eventual robot holocaust.

In short, if we end up building a race of super-intelligent robots, we have no one but ourselves to blame and Musk, sadly, is not too optimistic about humanity putting the right safeguards in place. In a second tweet, Musk says: ‘Hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable.” Here he’s referring to humanity’s role as the precursor to a human-level artificial intelligence and after the AI is up and running, we’ll be ruled superfluous to AI society and quickly erased.

Stephen Hawking warned that technology needs to be controlled in order to prevent it from destroying the human race.
The world-renowned physicist, who has spoken out about the dangers of artificial intelligence in the past, believes we all need to establish a way of identifying threats quickly, before they have a chance to escalate.

“Since civilisation began, aggression has been useful inasmuch as it has definite survival advantages,” he told The Times.

“It is hard-wired into our genes by Darwinian evolution. Now, however, technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war. We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason.”

In a Reddit AMA back in 2015, Mr Hawking said that AI would grow so powerful it would be capable of killing us entirely unintentionally.

“The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence,” Professor Hawking said. “A super intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble.

“You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. Let’s not place humanity in the position of those ants.”
The theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who has died recently aged 76, said last year that he wanted to “inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet”. Hawking, who until 2009 held a chair at Cambridge university once occupied by Isaac Newton, was uniquely placed to encourage an upwards gaze.

Enfeebled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease, he displayed extraordinary clarity of mind. His ambition was to truly understand the workings of the universe and then to share the wonder.

Importantly, he warned of the perils of artificial intelligence and feared that the rise of the machines would be accompanied by the downfall of humanity. Not that he felt that human civilisation had particularly distinguished itself: our past, he once said, was a “history of stupidity”.

Here are 10 interesting insights into the life and viewpoints of Stephen Hawking. Sure, Stephen Hawking is a brilliant, groundbreaking scientist, but that’s not all …

Stephen Hawking had much to say on the future of tech after all, he was an expert: Hawking was one of the first people to become connected to the internet.

“So, we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it.
“Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilisation.
While he saw many benefits to artificial intelligence – notably, the Intel-developed computer system ACAT that allows him to communicate more effectively than ever – he echoes entrepreneurial icons like Elon Musk by warning that the completion of A.I.’s potential would also “spell the end of the human race.”

Stephen Hawking co-authored an ominous editorial in the Independent warning of the dangers of AI.

The theories for oblivion generally fall into the following categories (and they miss the true danger):
– Military AI’s run amok: AIs decide that humans are a threat and set out to exterminate them.
– The AI optimization apocalypse: AI’s decide that the best way to optimize some process, their own survival, spam reduction, whatever, is to eliminate the human race.
– The resource race: AIs decide that they want more and more computing power, and the needs of meager Earthlings are getting in the way. The AI destroys humanity and converts all the resources, biomass — all the mass of the Earth actually — into computing substrate.
– Unknowable motivations: AI’s develop some unknown motivation that only supremely intelligent beings can understand and humans are in the way of their objective, so they eliminate us.
I don’t want to discount these theories. They’re all relevant and vaguely scary. But I don’t believe any of them describe the actual reason why AIs will facilitate the end of humanity.

As machines take on more jobs, many find themselves out of work or with raises indefinitely postponed. Is this the end of growth? No, says Erik Brynjolfsson:

Final thought: Artificial Intelligence will facilitate the creation of artificial realities  custom virtual universes  that are so indistinguishable from reality, most human beings will choose to spend their lives in these virtual worlds rather than in the real world. People will not breed. Humanity will die off.

It’s easy to imagine. All you have to do is look at a bus, subway, city street or even restaurant to see human beings unplugging from reality (and their fellow physical humans) for virtual lives online.

AIs are going to create compelling virtual environments which humans will voluntarily immerse themselves in. At first these environments will be for part-time entertainment and work. The first applications of AI will be for human-augmentation. We’re already seeing this with Siri, Indigo, EVA, Echo and the proliferation of AI assistants.

AI will gradually become more integrated into human beings, and Virtual platforms like Oculus and Vive will become smaller, much higher quality and integrated directly into our brains.

AIs are going to facilitate tremendous advances in brain science. Direct human-computer interfaces will become the norm, probably not with the penetrative violation of the matrix I/O ports, but more with the elegance of a neural lace. It’s not that far off.
In a world with true general AI, they’re going to get orders of magnitude smarter very quickly as they learn how to optimize their own intelligence. Human and AI civilization will quickly progress to a post-scarcity environment.

And as the fully integrated virtual universes become indistinguishable from reality, people will spend more and more time plugged in.
Humans will not have to work, there will be no work for humans. Stripped of the main motivation most people have for doing anything, people will be left to do whatever they want.

Want to play games all day? Insert yourself into a Matrix quality representation of Game of Thrones where you control one of the great houses. Go ahead. Play for years with hundreds of friends.

Want to spend all day trolling through the knowledge of the world in a virtual, fully interactive learning universe? Please do. Every piece of human knowledge can be available, and you can experience recreations of historical events first-hand.

Want to explore space? Check out this fully immersive experience from an unmanned Mars space-probe. Or just live in the Star Wars or Star Trek universe.

Want to have a month long orgasm with the virtual sex hydra of omnisport? Enjoy, we’ll see you in thirty days. Online of course. No one dates anymore.

Well, some people will date. They will date AI’s. Scientists are already working on AI sex robots. What happens when you combine the intelligence, creativity and sensitivity embodied by Samantha in the movie Her with an android that is anatomically indistinguishable from a perfect human (Ex Machina, Humans, etc)?

Deep learning algorithms will find out your likes, dislikes and how to charm your pants off. The AIs will be perfect matches for your personality. They can choose your most desirable face and body type, or design their own face and attire for maximum allure.
Predicting the future is always a difficult matter. We can only rely on the predictions of experts and technology observations of what is in existence, however, it’s impossible to rule anything out.

We do not yet know whether AI will usher in a golden age of human existence, or if it will all end in the destruction of everything humans cherish. What is clear, though, is that thanks to AI, the world of the future could bear little resemblance to the one we inhabit today.

An AI takeover is a hypothetical scenario, but a robot uprising could be closer than ever predicted in which AI becomes the dominant for of intelligence of earth, with computers or robots effectively taking control of the planet away from the human species, according to royal astronomer Sir Martin Rees, who believes machines will replace humanity within a few centuries.

Possible scenarios include replacement of the entire human workforce, takeover by a super-intelligent AI, and the popular notion of a robot uprising. Some public figures that we have discussed in this blog, such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have advocated research into precautionary measures to ensure future super-intelligent machines remain under human control.

We need to watch this space…..

As Masayoshi Son once said:

“I believe this artificial intelligence is going to be our partner. If we misuse it, it will be a risk. If we use it right, it can be our partner.”

“Let’s have some tea and continue to talk about happy things!”

It’s hard to imagine that the humble biscuit could be of been an intrinsic part of our nation’s imperialist past but, in fact, the 19th-century expansion of the British Empire owes much to Huntley & Palmers’ Ginger Nuts and Bath Olivers. Many famous expeditions were fuelled by such delicacies: Henry Stanley set off in search of Dr. Livingstone with supplies of them, and Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island still contains tins of Huntley & Palmers biscuits, specially developed for the expedition, that were left there in 1911.

‘Fancy’ biscuits, as opposed to those eaten for health purposes, were first produced commercially in Britain in the early 19th century. Peek Frean, McVitie’s and Jacob’s all became household names but, certainly in terms of collecting, it is Huntley & Palmers that stands out today.

I was an incredible proud grandson, my Grandfather started his working life in industry with Huntley and Palmers. He came to be liked by Lord Palmer and his family, in running the UK operations, before being sent to Paris to set-up and manage the firm’s first French biscuit factory, located near Paris. Grandfather always amused me as a child informing me around the challenges of managing and running a biscuit operation in France that was to educate the French in English biscuits. He always amused me with his stories and wisdom, and this was always shared over tea and of course with a Huntley and Palmer biscuit, Grandfather said ‘there was always a new biscuit for every occasion’, we always shared biscuits which sparked new conversations, incredibly precious moments.

Huntley and Palmer’s had quite a success story in their day, the company was opened by a Quaker, Joseph Huntley, in London Street, Reading, in 1822. As the business expanded, he was joined by his cousin, George Palmer, in 1841. The firm acquired a site on King’s Road in Reading five years later and by 1860 had expanded into the biggest biscuit and cake manufacturer in the world, turning out 3,200 tons of biscuits a year. By 1900, there were so many Macaroons, Pic Nics and Osbornes (named after Queen Victoria’s favourite palace) being made, that there were over 5,000 employees and Reading was known as ‘Biscuit Town’. Thanks to some superb marketing, the export trade was enormous too, with biscuits distributed across the globe. Ten per cent of total production went to India alone, presumably so that the Governor of Bengal and his chums could enjoy a good Thin Abernethy (‘made from the Choicest Materials’) with their tea.

The story of Huntley and Palmers

Huntley & Palmers was very much in Palmer control for the foreseeable future. By their combination of managerial and entrepreneurial talent the company flourished.

The eating habits of the middle classes were changing, and by the late 1860s it was fashionable to take afternoon tea. This provided the perfect market for biscuits, by which time Huntley & Palmers were producing about one hundred varieties, of which the Ginger Nut, Gem and Nic Nac were especially popular.

So, what happened to tea and biscuits, our afternoon tea, and our meaningful conversations with family and friends?

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner.

The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
Traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches (including of course thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches), scones served with clotted cream and preserves. Cakes and pastries are also served. Tea grown in India or Ceylon is poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.

Nowadays however, in the average suburban home, afternoon tea is rare; likely to be just a biscuit or small cake and a mug of tea, usually produced using a teabag.

Has tea, family and friend’s discussions, meaningful conversations with others, just disappeared in the face of a busy life, technology overload and ‘do we just not have time?’

Once upon a time the biggest technological nuisance for the family was the phone ringing during dinner time. It is now common to see our loved ones hunched over their phones or tablets as they take one distracted bite of their food after another.

Once the plates are cleared the family might move to the living room for some television, but while the family may have once watched the program together, the new normal is to envelop yourself in a technological cocoon for the night.

Each person may catch the occasional glimpse of the show, but their attention is now being split between chatting with friends on the phone, watching YouTube clips and answering work emails.

Our fixation with technology has created new routines that are very different from traditional notions of family time.
The increasing ways we are using technology in isolation from one another is reflected by the latest figures from Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom. A recent study found that for the first-time children aged between 12 and 15 are spending as much time online as they are watching television, about 17 hours a week for each.

Many of these children are now not even bothering to sit in the lounge room with the family when they are online, with 20 per cent of five-year-olds now more likely to be alone in their bedroom when online.

Even special family occasions are now infiltrated by mobile technologies.

The home is where children learn their values, specifically what is important in family life. Building a warm and cohesive connections are crucial not only for our own family, but for society as a whole.

The internet has irrevocably blurred the boundaries between work and home, meaning many parents are still working in one form or another when they are at home with their family. What message does a child receive when he or she is telling a story about something important that happened at school and mum stops listening to reply to an urgent message from the office?

Technology is now an integral part of our lives, the impact of culture in technology on children relationships is more noticeable than in families. This divide has grown due to the increased use of technology among children in several ways. First, children’s absorption in technology, from texting to playing video games, does by their very nature limit their availability to communicate with their parents.

Times have changed. New technology offers children independence from their parents’ involvement in their social lives, with the use of mobile phones, instant messaging, and social networking sites. Of course, children see this technological divide between themselves and their parents as freedom from over-involvement and intrusion on the part of their parents in their lives. Parents, in turn, see it as a loss of connection to their children and an inability to maintain reasonable oversight, for the sake of safety and over-all health, of their children’s lives. At the same time, perhaps a bit cynically, children’s time-consuming immersion in technology may also mean that parents don’t have to bother with entertaining their children, leaving them more time to themselves.

There is little doubt that technology is affecting family relationships on a day-to-day level. Children are instant messaging constantly, checking their social media, listening to music, surfing their favorite web sites, and watching television or movies. Because of the emergence of mobile technology, these practices are no longer limited to the home, but rather can occur in cars, at restaurants, in fact, anywhere there’s a mobile phone signal.

The fact is that family life has changed in the last generation quite apart from the rise of technology. Add technology to the mix and it only gets worse. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like parents and children are emailing and texting each other more than they’re talking even when they’re at home together!

The ramifications of this distancing are profound. Less connection — the real kind — means that families aren’t able to build relationships as strong as they could be nor are they able to maintain them as well. As a result, children will feel less familiarity, comfort, trust, security, and, most importantly, love from their parents.

So, what is the answer? Change and transformation is always challenging in any environment and sometimes faced with strong reluctance, some of the best moments of my life have been spent with my grandparents in cheer and of course with tea and Huntley and Palmer biscuits.

Pope Francis recently addressed some participants, reminding them of the pre-eminence of love. “The life of a family is filled with beautiful moments: rest, meals together, walks in the park or the countryside, visits to grandparents or to a sick person… But if love is missing, joy is missing, nothing is fun. Jesus always gives us that love: he is its endless source.” He also exhorted people to learn from the wisdom of grandparents: “[A person or] people that does not listen to grandparents is one that dies! Listen to your grandparents.”

While your children and parenting will have many influences on their moral development, you always play the biggest role. You are their first teacher and role model. They look to you to learn how to act in the world.

While your words are important, it will be your actions that will teach them the most. How are your actions guiding your children in living up to your highest values?

There is a big difference between knowing about values and actually trying to adopt the traits. Often standing up for your values takes courage and strength, grandparents can be a huge help and influence on your children’s life in this chaotic, overcrowded, technological world that we all live in.

As my grandparents would always say to me and as this quote states from Chaim Potok:

“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things.”

Can you really fall in love with a Robot?

Our company has just started to work with a new client who has developed a humanised robot, which they describe as a ‘social robot’. It is clear by my work to date with this company that advances in robotics and AI are starting to gain some real momentum. In the coming decades, scientists predict robots will take over more and more jobs including white collar ones, and gain ubiquity in the home, school, and work spheres.

Due to this, roboticists and AI experts, social scientists, psychologists, and others are speculating what impact it will have on us and our world. Google and Oxford have teamed up to make a kill switch should AI initiate a robot apocalypse.

One way to overcome this is to imbue AI with emotions and empathy, to make them as human-like as possible, so much so that it may become difficult to tell robots and real people apart. In this vein, scientists have wondered if it might be possible for a human to fall in love with a robot, considering we are moving toward fashioning them after our own image. Spike Jonze’s Her and the movie Ex Machina touch on this.

Can you fall in love with a robot?
http://edition.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2017/04/10/can-you-all-in-love-with-a-robot.cnn

Interesting enough both the film ‘Ex Machina’, in which a computer programmer falls in love with a droid, may not be as far-fetched as you think.

A new study has found that humans have the potential to emphasise with robots, even while knowing they do not have feelings.
It follows previous warnings from experts that humans could develop unhealthy relationships with robots, and even fall in love with them.

The discovery was made after researchers asked people to view images of human and humanoid robotic hands in painful situations, such as being cut by a knife. After studying their electrical brain signals, they found humans responded with similar immediate levels of empathy to both humans and robots.

After studying their electrical brain signals, they found humans responded with similar immediate levels of empathy to both humans and robots.

But the beginning phase of the so-called ‘top-down’ process of empathy was weaker toward robots.

The study was carried out by researchers at Toyohashi University of Technology and Kyoto University in Japan, and provides the first neurophysiological evidence of humans’ ability to empathise with robots.

These results suggest that we empathise with humanoid robots in a similar way to how we empathise with other humans.
Last month, a robot ethicist warned that AI sex dolls could ‘contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women’

Scientists suggest that we’re unable to fully take the perspective of robots because their body and mind – if it exists – are very different from ours.

‘I think a future society including humans and robots should be good if humans and robots are prosocial,’ study co-author Michiteru Kitazaki told Inverse.

‘Empathy with robots as well as other humans may facilitate prosocial behaviors. Robots that help us or interact with us should be empathised by humans.’

Experts are already worried about the implication of humans developing feelings for robots.

The question we all need to ask is ‘do we fear a future of love with a real human to be a happy to substitute to a robot’ the idea that a real, living, breathing human could be replaced by something that is almost, but not exactly, the same thing, well, actually a robot.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of Tay, Microsoft’s social AI experiment that went from “friendly millennial girl” to genocidal misogynist in less than a day. At first, Tay’s story seems like a fun one for anyone who’s interested in cautionary sci-fi. What does it mean for the future of artificial intelligence if a bot can embody the worst aspects of digital culture after just 16 hours online?

If any AI is given the vastness of human creation to study at lightning speed, will it inevitably turn evil?

Will the future be a content creation battle for their souls?

Society is now driven by the social connections you hold, the likes and your preferences of relevancy, the movie Her is described with a complex nature, a man who is inconsolable since he and his wife separated. Theodore is a lonely man in the final stages of his divorce. When he’s not working as a letter writer, his down time is spent playing video games and occasionally hanging out with friends. He decides to purchase the new OS1, which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness,” the ad states. Theodore quickly finds himself drawn in with Samantha, the voice behind his OS1. As they start spending time together they grow closer and closer and eventually find themselves in love. Having fallen in love with his OS, Theodore finds himself dealing with feelings of both great joy and doubt. As an OS, Samantha has powerful intelligence that she uses to help Theodore in ways others hadn’t, but how does she help him deal with his inner conflict of being in love with an OS?

Though technically unfeasible by today’s AI standards, the broad premise of the movie is more realistic than most people may think. Indeed, in the past 10 years our lives have been transformed by technology and love is no exception. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, there’s no better time to examine some of the recent developments in this area.

Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, offers virtual girlfriends and boyfriends for around $2 (£1.20) per day. These are real humans, but they only relate with their paying customers via the phone – calls or text – in order to perform fairly unromantic tasks such as wake up calls, good night calls, and (perhaps the most useful service) “sympathetically listen to clients’ complaints”. If this is all you expect from a relationship, it at least comes at a cheap price.

Similar services already exist in India, where biwihotohaisi.com helps bachelors “practice” for married life with a virtual wife, and Japan, where “romance simulation games” are popular with men and women, even when they feature animated avatars rather than human partners.

In many of today’s most fascinating visions of future love, the body itself seems like a relic of the past. In Her, for example, we encounter a social landscape where love between humans and machines doesn’t require a physical body at all. Instead we watch as Theo shares his most personal moments with an AI who he never actually touches, but who conveys intimacy through talking, sharing messages, drawings, ideas and sexual fantasies. In our current social climate, where dating often means scrolling through photos and written bios rather than interacting with people in person, the idea that you could fall in love with your computer doesn’t seem so far-fetched. After all, we are already used to more disembodied forms of communication, and, as many older generations continue to lament, many young people today are more likely to text or sext than actually establish in-person kinds of intimacy.

AI is the perfect sounding board for these modern anxieties about human connection, and 20th- and 21st-century films are filled with dystopian landscapes that showcase the loneliness of a world where intimacy is something you can buy. In many of these films, from classics such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to more modern movies like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, the creators and consumers of AI are male, while the AI themselves are female. The patriarchal underpinning of this is vividly explored in sci-fi such as The Stepford Wives and Cherry 2000, where we are ushered into worlds where compliant and submissive female robots are idealized by their male creators as the epitome of perfection, and always exist completely under their thumb. The female robots we meet in these films cook, clean, are unfailingly supportive and are always sexually available, in addition to being exceptionally beautiful. These sex-bots have also become both a mainstay of humor, from the sexy goofiness of 80s films such as Weird Science and Galaxina, to the cheeky and slightly more socially aware comedies in the 90s, with the frilly, busty fembots of Austen Powers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s charmingly dippy “Buffy-bot”

Serge Tisseron, a French Psychiatrist who studies the relationships between youth, the media and images and the effect of information and communication technology on young people, reminds that, despite signs of attachments from the robot, the relation can and will always be one way.

Serge insists on the importance of a reflection around the ethical issues to avoid the destruction of human relations. Because of their interactions with efficient, high-performing and helpful robots, humans could end up being disappointed with other humans altogether, especially on a professional level. Or, we could eventually abandon our responsibilities completely and rely solely on robots to take care of our loved ones. In the end, this could result in a serious withdrawal from the human world and could affect our ability to live in society.

A final thought is that no one knows what the future holds, if robots will manage to develop their conscience and emotions but in any case, there needs to be enough preparations for their development and integration to society.

A great quote by Colin Angle:

“In the smart home of the future, there should be a robot designed to talk to you. With enough display technology, connectivity, and voice recognition, this human-interface robot or head-of-household robot will serve as a portal to the digital domain. It becomes your interface to your robot-enabled home.”

What can we learn from Darwin in today’s technological world

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. The world he was born into would be entirely unrecognisable to us today. Bicycles had yet to be invented, steam engines were just beginning to appear, and slavery was commonly practiced in both England and the United States. During the course of his lifetime, Darwin saw the world around him change enormously, but arguably the most significant change came from his own ideas. Darwin’s theory evolution of natural selection, altered the ways we think about almost every aspect of life.

While Darwin’s theory was ground breaking, shocking, and tremendously illuminating during his lifetime, what can it mean for us today? With all the time that has passed since Darwin’s birth, is there anything we can still learn from him? In the pursuit of science and everyday life, there are countless ways Darwin’s words still ring true today.

I recently watched a film called ‘Concussion’, which triggered the thoughts behind this blog. Starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born pathologist who brought the issue of brain damage in retired NFL players to the forefront, Concussion is the sort of underdog-stares-down-corporate-behemoth feature that reliably manages to stir up some awards buzz.

The true-life story began unfolding in September 2002 when Omalu, then with the Allegheny County coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was assigned to perform an autopsy on the body of Mike Webster. Known as “Iron Mike,” Webster was a beloved former Pro Bowler with Pittsburgh Steelers, the anchor of a front line that helped the team win four Super Bowls. However, his mental health deteriorated to the point where he was ranting at strangers and zapping himself with a Taser gun, until his death from a heart attack at age 50.

In the film, Dr. Bennet Omalu did significant research across Darwin’s observations of birds and quoted in the film: ‘All of these animals have shock absorbers built into their bodies. The woodpecker’s tongue extends through the back of the mouth out of the nostril, encircling the entire cranium. It is the anatomical equivalent of a safety belt for its brain. Human beings? Not a single piece of our anatomy protects us from those types of collisions. A human being will get concussed at sixty G’s. A common head-to-head contact on a football field? One hundred G’s. God did not intend for us to play football.’

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was subsequently hauled in to testify before a House Judiciary Committee in October 2009 about safety measures, and stricter guidelines were established in the pro game to limit head injuries. Still, dozens of former players embarked on legal action against the NFL in 2011, claiming that the league had failed to adequately warn and protect them. As of the summer of 2015, more than 5,000 former players were involved in a consolidated lawsuit, with a settlement figure of $765 million deemed insufficient by a judge.

This was just one example of Darwin and his teachings in our fast-technological world, it could be said that we do not observe enough, and only in times of necessity or extreme need, as with the case with ‘Concussion.’

Nature is wonderful. Darwin taught us that complex animals like birds, frogs, and even humans came about in complex ways over long periods of time. Evidence for this history is everywhere, you just have to stop and notice the details. His vivid description of an entangled bank reminds me that there is wonder in acknowledging this simple fact from time to time:

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”

Beauty can be found in the struggle. Darwin knew all too well that nature can be brutal. Individual animals fight, starve, and die other horrible deaths. Darwin acknowledged that existence is a struggle, that nature is often at war, and that resources are scarce. Somehow, he still found solace in the end product:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

We are all connected and we depend on each other. Evolution reminds us that all living creatures came about through the same basic principles. We all evolved from common ancestors in the remote past, from simple beginnings. Let’s return to Darwin’s entangled bank quote. He asks us to:

“….reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner…”

His theories are now associated with business through the concept of ‘Darwinian Economics’, namely that it is organisations that are best able to adapt that are most likely to survive.

But what else can you, entrepreneur, business leader or individual learn from Charles Darwin?

Use the power of observation. Many people are so busy making decisions, analysing problems and seeking answers that they pay no attention to simply observing. Darwin, on the other hand, spent much of his career observing. He spent six years, for example, dissecting and describing in eye-watering detail the structure of barnacles!

If you are observing you cannot be analysing, and vice versa, and it was Darwin’s observations that formed the basis of his idea that changed the world. His five years on the Beagle trip, for example, involved him taking thousands of samples of various species.
Observation requires getting out there, suspending your beliefs and simply taking note. It cannot be done from behind a desk through reports.

How much time do you spend on the front-line observing your team or your customers rather than analysing second or third-hand data?

Looking to the past for innovation breakthroughs. Darwin was not the first person to have thought of the concept for evolution: he was not even the first person in his own family to have the idea! His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had promulgated the idea that all animals had a common origin before Charles was born.

Similarly you can see the process of recombining ideas in other major breakthroughs and innovations. For example, Lou Gerstener refocused IBM away from hardware to service and consultancy support by connecting his prior (negative) experience as an IBM customer with his McKinsey consultancy experience and with the existence of a highly-active sales support unit within the company. This change in strategic direction transformed IBM from a company delivering record losses in the early 1990’s to multi-billion dollar profits by the end of the century.

What are you doing to make new connections that lead to new, breakthrough concepts?

You can only change the world through action, not thinking. Darwin sat on his theory for 17 years before he published ‘On The Origin Of The Species’. He held back publication in order to ensure that he had irrevocable evidence to support his theory (hence his interest in barnacles!). Darwin’s hand was only forced when a rival publication was developed and his desire to be seen as the originator of the idea of evolution overcame his need to be 100% certain of his ideas.

Likewise, taking action and prudent risks is the cornerstone of business growth and an offensive, rather than defensive strategy, is critical for ongoing survival and success. For example, Gillette has established market leadership by a stream of innovations that make their existing ranges obsolete. As a senior Gillette executive once said, “We have never launched a major new product without having its successor in development. You have to steer the market.”

In summary, the miraculous discoveries upon Darwin’s ideas established a philosophy by introducing the time factor, by demonstrating the importance of chance and contingency, and by showing that theories in evolution are based on a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person in the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism; essentialism or typology, and possibly one of the most important facts is that we must adopt population thinking, in which all individuals are unique with a belief and a can do attitude.

One of Darwin’s most famous quotes:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Social Media, H2H relationships and the smartphone

I recently had a very intriguing conversation with my social media and blog agency – we have those conversations normally at 11pm London time, every Sunday night. Jacques will ask me: “How are you my friend? Your blog for Monday is all set.” I will respond with: “I am Social Media worked out, so tired”, to which Jacques responds: “So just come off Social Media and concentrate on your writing, I still want to see your next book!”
At this point I laugh loudly, but the facts are, when Jacques said this to me it was a precious moment of introspection and reflection – some people call this a light bulb moment, the result is he is so right, and this is a subject I have written extensively about: ‘Is Human 2 Human Communication Dying’, ‘In the praise of speed or not, as the case may be’, ‘Has technology killed love and romance’, ‘Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?’ – just to name a few.

One month after truly quitting Twitter (we even removed the Twitter-share buttons from the site), I feel much better: no incessant alerts anymore, no more sending only (without feedback). And, I actually found a true quality-alternative: interaction, feedback and participation – you can find me here: Geoff on beBee.

If you are emotionally attached to your smartphone and rely on it every waking minute, it may be harming your relationships – I find most accidents happen with people texting when they walk, not to mention what happens when you are in their line of the street. The new education for humans is how to avoid being knocked over by the person texting on their smartphone.

So how does social media affect interaction in our society? Will face-to-face communication ultimately diminish because of these new social technologies? These questions are ones that many researchers have found extremely intriguing since the advent and popularisation of social media in the last decade. Within this topic, social competency is an important ideal that most people strive towards, but there is evidence to support the claims that social media is actually harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting.

Psychologists claim that increasing numbers of people in long-term partnerships are having to compete with their partner’s smartphone for attention, making it the ‘third wheel’ in their relationship.

A survey found that almost three quarters of women in committed relationships feel that smartphones are interfering with their love life and are reducing the amount of time they spend with their partner.

Scientists found that what they describe as this ‘technoference’ – even if infrequent – sets off a chain of negative events: more conflict about technology, lower relationship quality, lower life satisfaction and higher risk of depression.
• 62 per cent of women in long-term relationships who were surveyed said technology interferes with their free time together
• 35 per cent claim their partner will pull out his phone mid-conversation if they receive a notification
• 25 per cent said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations
• 75 per cent said their smartphone is affecting their relationship.
The poll, which was conducted by Brandon McDaniel of The Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Coyne of Brigman Young University in Utah, surveyed 143 women.

Further studies on the social competency of youths who spend much of their time on social media networks are sometimes very conflicting. For example, a study executed by the National Institute of Health found that youths with strong, positive face-to-face relationships may be those most frequently using social media as an additional venue to interact with their peers. As a pretty outgoing person myself, I find myself using social media as an extra outlet to obtain real-time news feeds, research and interact with people who are interested in my book. Although I personally agree with this study’s findings, I also believe that social media can be an excellent avenue for introverted people to find a comfortable setting to interact and from the opposite it can drive a highly-motivated individual to isolation, loneliness and to mental health disorder.

I definitely believe that face-to-face interaction must continue to be our main source of communication. According to Forbes magazine, only 7% of communication is based on the verbal word. That means that over 90% of communication is based on nonverbal cues such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice.

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the brain chemicals of people who habitually used the Internet and were perhaps addicted to it had abnormal connections between the nerve fibers in their brain. These changes are similar to other sorts of addicts, including alcoholics.

Take “ghosting,” which has been discussed regularly in the media lately. The name refers to someone simply vanishing from another person’s life, usually after the two have gone on several dates. It’s a frustrating, confusing and, certainly, impolite way to end a relationship, but it’s not new.

The connected world’s larger behavioral impact is more on how we interact with each other on a daily basis. A 2014 study: “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” looked at the effects that phones have when people talk face-to-face. Observing 100 friendly couples having a 10-minute conversation while their phone was present, researchers noticed that the individuals still continued to fiddle with their phones. When those same couples conversed without a phone present, their conversations resulted in greater empathy.

A very interesting white paper named “Information in the Study of Human Interaction” by Keith Devlin and Duska Rosenberg states that in today’s world, most of us think of information as a commodity that is largely independent of how it is embodied. It can be bought, sold, stolen, exchanged, shared, stored, sent along wires and through the ether, and so forth. It can also be processed, using information technologies, both concepts that would have sounded alien (and probably nonsensical) to anyone living in the nineteenth century, and even the first half of the twentieth.

Little by little, Internet and mobile technology seems to be subtly destroying the meaningfulness of interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society. Instead of spending time in person with friends, we just call, text or instant message them. It may seem simpler and easier, but we ultimately end up seeing our friends face to face a lot less. Ten texts can’t even begin to equal an hour spent chatting with a friend over coffee, lunch or dinner. And a smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it could never replace the ear-splitting grin and smiling eyes of one of your best friends. Face time is important, people. We need to see each other.

This doesn’t just apply to our friends; it applies to the world around us. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being.

There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers, and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen.

While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing us to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”