Is That Text Worth Death?

What has changed in your world in the past ten years? Likely, everything about your life has completely changed. Similarly, the technology world has changed immensely in the past ten years. TV’s have grown about 20 inches, computers have shrunk about 10 inches, and cell phones have evolved from cordless bricks to handheld lifelines that control our every move. Further, today’s cell phones give us the ability to send instant messages, send emails, update Facebook statuses, take pictures, use GPS, and a whole plethora of other applications. Many of these phones are more complex than your basic desktop computer! And while it may seem remarkable that we have limitless access at our fingertips, the extended capabilities of cell phones may be more detrimental than useful. One issue that may arise from this limitless access is texting and driving.

Since 2010, texting and driving has increased almost 50% (AT&T It Can Wait Campaign). The specific reason for this increase in texting and driving is unknown, but it has been found that texting and driving is even more dangerous than it once was (if that’s at all possible). Prior to touch screen phones, people were able to text without looking at their phones because they could feel the buttons. Today’s phones, however, require that we look at them because there are no buttons. Each time we look at our phones, we spend almost five seconds with our eyes off of the road (AT&T It Can Wait Campaign). Five seconds is enough time to travel across the length of a soccer field! And obviously, five seconds is also more than enough time to get into an accident. One report says that “texting and driving results in longer response times than even drunk driving!” A drunk driver only needs an additional four feet to start braking, while a driver who’s texting needs an additional 70 feet to begin braking (Cell Phone and Texting Accident Statistics).

So why do we continue to text and drive? Further, why are we still allowed to text and drive? Only fourteen states and the District of Colombia have banned texting and driving. Even more surprising is that only six states and the District of Colombia have prohibited driving and talking on the phone (Cell Phone and Texting Accident Statistics). With approximately 3,092 distraction-related deaths in 2010, you’d think lawmakers would crack down on this issue. Some argue, though, that it’s not the government’s responsibility. Do you think the government should put restrictions on what we’re allowed to do while driving? Or should we take it upon ourselves and just stop driving distracted?

For those who think we should take it upon ourselves to stop distracted driving: there’s an app for that. Recently, AT&T developed an app called “Drive Mode”.  Drive Mode is an app that once activated, disables incoming calls and text while you are driving. All calls go straight to voicemail and all texts and emails get autoreplies (if you choose).  Drive Mode also has an “allow list” of people that you’re allowed to receive calls from and make calls to while the app is running. Further, 911 is always accessible whether the app is running or not. If you choose to download this app, you are choosing to take the pledge to stop texting and driving. I already took the pledge. Will you?

If you are interested, take the pledge now! Do not text and drive. Someone needs you.

The Reality of Science Fiction

Growing up with parents who were both major Star Wars and Star Trek fans I have been exposed to the world of science fiction since I was extremely young.  Within the realms of sci-fi, one major thematic element to offset it from reality is the presence of machines functioning in a manner similar to humans.  From the stiff, mechanical movements of C-3PO to the fluid human-like grace of the android Data, robots have existed as a marker for the undefined “future.”  Well, this future is much closer than many believe it to be.

This video is several years old now and the project has come a long way since then, but it is still one of the best introductory examples of AIST’s Cybernetic Human HRP-4C “Miim.”

Although Miim is still a work in progress, she is able to perform basic song and dance as seen in the video.  In addition, Miim runs on a basic form of artificial intelligence to respond to human verbal input and can even generate facial expressions to fit the mood of the conversation.   Also, she is capable of walking smoothly based on the mathematical algorithms presented at the 2010 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Taipei, Taiwan.  Since then, the HRP-C model has been further refined, and versions of her shell as well as operating system have been incorporated into a number of practices, including the dentistry field where the robots are able to react to stimuli such as pain or a gag reflex while being able to communicate where the pain is experienced.  Additionally, the dentistry models are capable of basic human functions such as coughing, sneezing, moving their tongue, attempting to talk with tools in their mouth, etc.

Although their artificial intelligence modules are not fully developed yet, mankind is faced with the inevitability of having to deal with a question it has long avoided.  As people are already having a hard time dealing with the fact that the internet is becoming as much a reality as the physical world, how will society react to the introduction of an artificial person?  Will they be integrated into society as full citizens or will these machines fully capable of thought and feeling be oppressed, enslaved, and/or mistreated simply because they are not organic?  Unfortunately only time will tell, but until then humanity must prepare itself mentally for these ethical questions which will be faced in the very near future.

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Why social media can’t change the world

On April 20, 2012, the entire world changed forever. Inspired by Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign, millions stormed the streets in protest of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group. These die hard activists stormed the streets armed with posters, t-shirts, and novelty buttons. Overnight, decades old conflicts were solved, Kony was arrested, and justice was served.

The only unfortunate downside to April 20 was that the world didn’t change forever. The millions of protestors turned out to be only a few hundred. The novelty items turned out to be ineffective weapons against the harsh realities of the African continent.

In 3 days, the video garnered 21 million views, and today, the total view count sits at over 90 million. Yet unbeknownst to many Youtube viewers, watching a video is not equivalent to engaging in social advocacy. This had led some to accuse Invisible Children of promoting slacktivism.

They argue that the oversimplification of complex situations into easily digestible social media bites undermines legitimate activism.

However, others reply that awareness campaigns are beneficial, and provide a social outpouring of support that is used to enact real, lasting change.

What do you think? Is Kony 2012 simply a bad example? Can social media really change the world?

A Human Connection

Contrary to what the amount of caffeine in my system dictates, I can’t help but stop and allow myself the brevity of a short pause’s worth of contemplation. It occurs to me that, much like the way I am now sitting in front of my lap top, (writing this post for your reading pleasure), engaging in some specific form of interaction with whoever reads this blog, there are millions of people scattered throughout the face of this planet, doing the exact same thing, and more than likely in a much more direct manner than I am doing right now. I can’t help but think that, not only are there millions of people out there doing the exact same thing, but the amount of time for which they have been doing the exact same thing is also more than likely a longer period of time (and I mean much, much longer) than the time I have taken typing this post. Surely, even as I finish typing this post and prepare for the day ahead, those same millions of people that were on their internet-accessible devices, interacting with other millions of people, will continue to do so and remain in that state for even longer periods of time.

So then comes the question: What is it about this entire meta of online social interaction that keeps us plastered to our seats, uploading the latest pictures of last night’s crazy shindigs or waiting for someone to respond to our posted frustration of “Fuck doing lab reports”? Why are we so preoccupied with letting the hundreds of friends we have on Facebook know that “I just drank my tenth cup of coffee and I am so wired!”? But most importantly, why must we do it so often, and for such extended periods of time?

Well, after careful consideration, I managed to construct a hypothesis of my own that, in a very subtle way, coincides with a couple articles I was able to find online. It is my hypothesis that, we are so attached (addicted if you will) to online social interaction because ultimately, as much as we love to deny it, we seek to make a connection, a human connection, with others. We hate to admit it, but we love the attention that we are given when someone responds to even the smallest aspect or details of our life – that is, the parts of our life that we willingly decide to portray on the web for the viewing pleasure of well, everyone.

It sounds simple, I know, almost too simple, but I believe it is true, or at the very least it is a major factor behind the reasons why we spend so much time on online social websites.

According to this rudimentary study on Facebook addiction, my suspicions are not unfounded. Although the conclusions drawn from this study are phrased differently, they intersect, even if only casually with my own hypothesis. Basically, if we were to categorize the people that we can say are addicted not just to Facebook, but to online social networks in general, we would find a distinguishable pattern among this group of people. Things like a connection to neurosis and extraversion as mentioned by Dr. Andreassen and colleagues, as well as its prominence among individuals of a young age.

All of these things can be ultimately tied in to our constant need of attention and our need to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. We strive to make a human connection because well, we are weak and frail creatures that need to feel a sense of solidarity with the people that form part of our lives and more. We gain a sense of satisfaction and reward when someone comments on, or “likes” something we post. It’s arguable, but the truth is that the great majority of us wouldn’t be able to live without that connection, that feeling that assures us of our existence and relevance to other people’s lives – that feeling that we are sure is keeping us sane. And therein is the irony of our lives: that the very concept we created to maintain our sanity is the the same thing that is driving us to our insanity.

So that’s that. Why do you think we are so attached to the online social network enigma? Rain your thoughts on me.

Also, ladies, I found this interesting article online that you might want to check out. I can’t wait to see what you think about that.

Apple users are smarter, more attractive, and make more money

According to a report from Nielsen/NetRatings, Mac users are better educated and make more money than PC-users. If you disagree, you’re likely unintelligent and unattractive (according to a report from me).

In fact, certain cultural commentators (aka this random guy from my online Poli-Sci course) such as Ryan Rivera have even claimed that possession of an Apple product increases one’s sexual desirability:

However, why exactly do we buy Apple? Is it because Apple makes us smart and sexy? Or is it simply because Apple has become a status symbol in today’s culture?

Examples like ‘phone on the table’ students and wannabe iPhone users (see cartoon) are two examples of how Apple has obtained a cult-like following.

In fact, the cultural phenomenon is to the point where people can’t even justify their own rationale behind buying new Apple products. See Neil Katz’s response to the iPhone 5.

Katz is a longtime Apple supporter who has “bought just about everything Apple’s made since the Apple II Plus came out in 1979.”

He announced to the world that he would “probably be standing on line [sic] with millions of other Americans buying an iPhone 5. Only this time, I won’t really know why.”

Given that buying Apple seems to be the default option when it comes to getting a new phone or a new laptop, have we been culturally conditioned into preferring Apple?

What are your thoughts? Is Apple a status symbol? Is it perhaps something more? Or perhaps this dialogue is overblown and you’d simply prefer a good laugh. Look no further than “Sh*t Apple Fans Say”:

Information & Identity?

Hello World!

Branching off from jabong1’s blog, information technology is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. We use gigabytes of data in our everyday lives for work, school, and play. You wouldn’t be able to read this very blog if it wasn’t stored on the cloud!  As such, more and more research is being devoted towards optimizing the way we store our information. Being curious, I recently came upon an article barely released just 31 days ago. “700 terabytes of data into a single gram” of DNA; a lot of people have a hard time using up just one terabyte! The very notion of using DNA to store data opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

DNA already serves as a blueprint for living organisms to exist. As such, we all have a different DNA sequence that makes each one of us unique from one another. Would it not be logical then, to utilize DNA towards storing information that make up our identity? The movies we’ve seen, the music we love, the moments we share… people will argue that all our different experiences in being alive makes up a gigantic portion of our identity. It is no surprise people love to share their experiences through social media such as twitter and facebook in order to express their identity and feel alive in the online community. If this data was stored in our DNA (and we had the ability to extract it), it would be simple to share with our friends at school or to start up a conversation with someone whom you are interested in meeting.

Research on DNA data storage could lead to DNA data-extracting-scanner-type-machines in the future.  It will change the way we do things on the day-to-day basis. The idea of scanning your skin at airports, banks, or in place of a driver’s licenses would make things much more convenient and easier for us to do than having to remember to carry around every little piece of important documentation. It also helps with taking attendance in schools and in meetings and could help keep a log of hours spent on certain jobs or activities. Since DNA replicates when cells divide, people will never have to worry about misplacing their important data and information.

An important issue with this, however, is that using DNA to store information may not be very safe and secure. A person could easily get their hands on another’s DNA by obtaining a lock of their hair or a piece of a fingernail. Because every single cell in our body contains a copy of our DNA, we could have millions of DNA strands just lying around our homes or on the streets just waiting to be picked up! On the extreme level, people might do something as extreme as cutting up a corpse to access the individual’s information when he/she was alive (a whole new meaning towards identity theft!!).

Getting to the point, the concept of identity is who we are as individuals. People are “ever-changing and in constant communication with each other,” as Turkle mentions in her article, “Looking Toward Cyberspace: Beyond Grounded Sociology.” Who we are with friends differs from who we are with our families. New ways to make friends and network with people have changed the way we view our relationships. Being anonymous gives people courage to act like a**holes online where they would be looked down upon out in the real world society, acting like hypocrites, or acting like someone they aren’t. However, it also allow us more freedom to express our personal views and opinions on topics of major concern. We laugh, we cry, we are sometimes highly motivated, and other times disappointingly lazy. Putting on a myriad of different faces is just a part of our human nature, and all these different faces make up our identity.

Although it is an amazing concept to be able to use DNA to store a perhaps infinite amount of data occurring in our everyday lives, I, personally, do not believe that it to be plausible to go as far as use DNA to keep information about our identification. Though, it definitely makes the future all the more interesting.

So you want to make a map…

“There are a couple of steps. You acquire data through partners. You do a bunch of engineering on that data to get it into the right format and conflate it with other sources of data, and then you do a bunch of operations, which is what this tool is about, to hand massage the data. And out the other end pops something that is higher quality than the sum of its parts.” Michael Weiss-Malik (Google engineer)

Google Maps is a mapping service and database, accessible for free online and on mobile platforms. It offers an incredible range of data, ranging from satellite imagery of the entire planet, road and route planning information, local businesses locations, and a huge collection of “street-view” pictures over hundreds of cities around the world.

Google Street View cars have driven over five million miles in 46 countries. Beyond the direct utility these “human-level” images of cities have, Google is using powerful OCR algorithms (developed partially through Google Books) to extract text from signs and businesses and feeding this information back into its database.

Where does all of this information come from? The base layer (for the US) comes from TIGER data from the US Census Bureau. This is just the start- for one thing, many small details such as roads don’t exactly line up with the real world. Google employs hundreds of people to analyze imagery and make small corrections. In addition, Google often corrects errors reported in its maps from users within minutes.

Even more impressive is Google Map Maker, a bottom-up way to edit Google Maps. Anyone around the world can use this service to improve the places that they experience every day, making Google Maps a richer experience for everyone by adding landmarks and utilizing local knowledge.

Why does Google care about having the world’s most accurate and comprehensive maps? If Google’s mission is to organize and monetize all of the world’s information, it needs more than search spiders. It needs to move into the physical world, collect, organize, and make searchable the huge amount of data that the world contains. It needs to create an interface between the online and offline worlds.

One example of the ways the Google Maps database will revolutionize the world is Google’s self-driving car initiative. This project is being led by Sebastian Thrun, who was integral in the development of Street View. Google’s cars have completed over 480,000 driverless miles accident free. Google Maps will take a huge role when this service is commercialized: the cars need to know exactly where to drive if they will be useful.