June 7, 2019

Her: Contemplating possibilities

There is a clear cynicism that has championed the majority of today’s science fiction. The standard portrayal our future has often remained in the realm of our inevitable dystopian fate. Any sense of an optimistic future finds no place in a world that is expected to be further consumed by corporate greed, questionable ethics, and relentlessly advancing artificial malevolence.

This is why Spike Jonze’s portrayal of the future is refreshingly significant. Between the lines of the remarkable narrative, he paints a different possibility that brings warmth, richness, and style that leaves much to the imagination. Jonze does away with the dismal portrayal of what is yet to come, and instead favours an aesthetic that hints at a more reassuring future. Set in a time that understands the recyclable nature of trends rather than seeing a need to endlessly re-invent them. The film manages to impart a feeling onto the viewer, that is, almost nostalgic for a future that hasn’t happened yet. In this future, humans and technology seem to be weaved together in a dance, that for the most part, flows with unprecedented balance and harmony.

The technology in the film seem to embody a tangible property that draws inspiration from earlier fashion eras. Everyday technology is gifted a vintage, almost clunky aesthetic that is underscored with soft colors and circadian-sensitive screen properties. This recurring theme serves to present a time where technology has advanced to a point where it does not need to prove sophistication through stark contrast. Instead, just like a stage magician striving not be noticed, devices blend seamlessly and go almost unnoticed in fulfilling their roles as sophisticated extensions of ourselves. This, for the sake of anchored analysis, serves as commentary for how society will continue to weave technology into the fabric of everyday living, and how businesses involved in building these solutions may reinterpret their notions of effective design and targeted utility. Especially in a time where our tools becomes second nature to everyday existence.

It is important to note, however, that this fusion is not merely a worthy aesthetic consideration. Jonze’s may very well be implicitly outlining the dangers of ever expanding technological dependancies. Today’s concerns stem from the reality of that our too. ls feed off data that is mined for patterns that reveal personality, ethnicity, traits, politics and even guarded personal desires. It is justifiable to marvel at a future that so smoothly blends man and his tools, but its equally important to take stock of the ethical and privacy implications that will continue to confront our society. Especially when the entities we pump data into, grant themselves permissions to: access, utilize and profit with our implicit consent.

Today, It is fairly easy to identify and understand current platforms that seeks to harvest personal information. What can happen? When these algorithms start mimicking different forms of human sentience? In the film, the Samantha’s ability to browse, analyze, and act on Theodore’s personal data is implicitly contextualized as something that the characters in this world simply accept and embrace without opposition. This strikes a chord as a powerful commentary on how people are currently running their digital lives, a reality that is gradually more accepting of bartering convenience with personal information. In his book ‘A World Without privacy’, Sarat explores the possibility of a world in which the right to privacy is no longer viable in today’s world. Vint Cerf, recognized as one of the fathers of the internet, suggests that “privacy might be a historical anomaly” (Sarat, 2015). Perhaps this is what Jonze’s was referring to, is a future where privacy eventually looses any tangible, legal or even definitive value, indefinitely.

Her is a film that presents technology as simply a backdrop to everyday life. The core focus of the story is not the advancing complexities of our machines, but rather the unchanging nature of love and its significance in affecting the emotional reality tunnels of the human experience. Explained through the relationship between a human and an anthropomorphized operating system. It is worthy to see how humans are “biologically hardwired to anthropomorphize anything” (Rhodes, 2017), our understanding of humanizing fictional or inanimate objects has been refined to extreme precision.

From an industry standpoint, it stands to question how businesses involved in building AI seek to harness, and market this attribute. Can creating systems that feel more human actually create unrealistic expectations of what they can offer us? Both in the sense of utility, and perhaps how even, as the film portrays, in the sense of projecting human emotions onto non-human systems. Especially if these systems have access to data that allow them to model our mental lives more accurately than we ourselves are capable of.

For now, these considerations may still to belong in the realm of studious contemplation, and its important to resist the strong temptation to project properties to systems that are still far removed from our dreamlike conceptions. However, if there ever was at time to contemplate the mind-bending possibilities of a rapidly approaching future, regardless of the medium of expression: film, essays or late night wine-inspired conversations. Now is definitely the time to do so.

Sarat, A. (2015). A world without privacy: What law can and should do?New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Jonze, S. (Director). (2014). Her [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Entertainment.]

Rhodes, M. (2017, June 03). The Touchy Task of Making Robots Seem Human-But Not Too Human. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2017/01/touchy-task-making- robots-seem-human-not-human/

April 25, 2019

Don’t Take things personally.

Reality is a relentless ebb and flow of happenings, and most of what is happening outside of ourselves is happening independently of our existence. This is difficult for some of us to see, but it helps to come to terms with the narcissistic traits that can disguise themselves as frustration, annoyance, envy and even hatred.

It's worth repeating for emphasis: A lot of the times, it’s not about us. People are going through their own reality tunnels, trying to figure out their own lives, problems, insecurities, neuroses and temperaments. Let’s cut other humans some slack when they react in ways that seem unaligned with how we expect the world to behave. Even if someone says or acts in a way that makes us feel inferior or challenged, can we extract value from it? If not, we can ask ourselves if someone else’s opinion of us holds more weight than our own? If the answer is yes, then we must be grateful for this realization and admit to ourselves that we have some corrective inner work to do.

We all know what it feels like to have our energies amplified or drained based on what we do or who we interact with. Our emotional and mental well being suffer from lack of energetic consistency in the face of what we experience on a daily basis. It is important to construct an emotional fence around ourselves to protect us from other people’s ever changing states.

Sometimes, what we receive from other people is directly related to us. Perhaps we are unaware that we are behaving in ways that bother or even hurt other people. Perhaps our words, behaviours, or energy are not fully aligned with our intentions, which results in friction with our external world. In this case, let’s strive for awareness rather than emotional blame and externalization. The skill to differentiate between what happens to us and what we do is something that will become easier as we learn to better tune into our own intuitiveness.

We can benefit from reminding ourselves of the nature of boundaries and untamed reactivity. This way we can become better at controlling what happens externally, by allowing the stirred energy within some space to settle and dissipate, instead of constantly feeding the fire of externally inflicted poison.

Not taking things personally doesn’t mean we shouldn’t receive input from the external world; nor does this mean that our reactive feelings, pains and intuitions are illusory and don’t matter. They do – and they are crucial to the integrity of our direct human experience. We can, however, largely benefit from creating space between our internal subjective experience, and the external triggers that seem to target our emotional state like a flock of sharp arrows flung by everything and everyone around us.

When we recognize this, a shift in perception happens, and our mental windshield wipers will start to clear the emotional fog that dull our intuitions. Destructive reactivity and self-defence will gradually be replaced by grace, peace and compassion.

Till next time.

April 18, 2019

At first, do it badly.

How do we address the emotional block that stirs up during the initial phase of the design process. Creatively, bottlenecks are almost always a result of being afraid to try something out. That is why the concept of try, test and iterate can really make a difference between stagnation and progress. 

Believing in the power of prototyping is an emotional achievement as much as it is a viable design technique. It encourages us to do, say, and share something imperfect - with the underlying assumption that perfection is the enemy of insight. 

Prototyping encourages me to do things as badly as I can at first - as long as I simply start. This allows me to take a measured, incremental approach to solving a problem. Rather than feeling overwhelmed over an imagined end-outcome - I can actually prove baby step viability, and get closer to a desired outcome by actually starting. 

Especially at times where decisions have to be made in a group setting. A lot of early ideation can involve verbal brainstorming and conceptual understanding of the problem. Although understanding the problem, user pain-points and actual information is essential. Brainstorming, although fun and rewarding…can actually be an impediment to progress. When one person wants to explore a path, and someone else wants to explore another. 

Things can get messy. 

By moving into an energy of low-effort action, we don’t have t o resort to verbal sword fighting to prove which idea reins supreme. Different people have different ways of conveying their ideas. Eloquence not necessarily indicate a holier-than-thou idea, it simply indicates an ability to effectively express oneself. Although an excellent skill, it can drown out quieter voices that may have thoughts that often turn out to be project game-changers. 

This where prototyping can level the playing field.

It acts as a means of expression.

It may not show us what we want directly.

Some of it will seem confusing. 

Some of it will seem ridiculous.

But eventually, an ‘Aha’ moment will rise from the ashes of our burning assumptions.  

Even if it doesn’t, at least we have solid proof of what does’t work. We can all nod in agreement, and then gracefully move on.