Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 30, 2012

Vasicek: Meandering about the future

By Ed Vasicek
Tribune columnist

— My fictitious friend, Emil, and his wife, Edna, had enjoyed an amazing Italian meal prepared by my amazing wife, Marylu. The gals were talking about artwork while Emil and I chatted over a cup of coffee.

Emil loves to read futurist blogs – columns written by folks who specialize in projecting the future.

“Yep,” he began, “Just read today about a new invention that could save lots of lives. You know lots of people in the impoverished nations die or nearly die because of bad water. It’s a real problem.”

“I’ve read about that,” I responded. “I know Bill Gates was giving out cash prizes to folks who were designing waterless toilets for the third world. Some amazing innovations came out of that. But what was this new invention?” Emil pulled out a clipping from conbug.com and began reading:

“Recently a UK design student won the James Dyson Award by creating a working prototype of a water bottle that can filter out 99.9% of bacteria, leaving the water sterilized in just a couple minutes … Using unique technology, the water bottle uses a wind-up ultra violet bulb to sterilize the water that is collected. The water then passes through a series of filters until it is bacteria and virus free … The water bottle could potentially save millions of lives. …”

“That’s amazing. What are some other things the futurists are talking about?”

“Well,” Emil continued, “I read something really strange. This one futurist, Thomas Frey – he seems to specialize in geeky stuff – anyhow, he says computers are going to become more emotional and anticipate what we want to watch or do. I think that’s kind of weird. He seems to think it will ‘amplify’ our humanity. I think it could endanger it.”

Emil keeps these articles folded up in his pockets. This one was stuck to a cough drop in a sticky wrapper. I finally opened the page from wfs.org and read it:

“We all dream of an easier life, so what if we got into our car and it knew where we wanted to go, or turned on a radio and it played the perfect music, or pressed ‘call’ on our phone and we would instantly be connected to the person we most wanted to talk to …

“That’s why I was so intrigued when I came across a new iPad app called MindMeld that is based on the emerging science of ‘anticipatory computing.’

“Using video and voice chat capabilities similar to Skype, MindMeld not only facilitates the discussion, but also adds pertinent photos or videos to the conversation as it interprets what is being said.

“… [I]f computers become more human-like in their thinking, adding our own emotional values to everything we think is important, the heartless machine-only qualities of these technologies will disappear, moving computers away from the paradigm of human-replacer to something more akin to human-enhancer.”

“Ed, isn’t that scary?”

“And how!” I responded. “Computers that ‘enhance’ our humanity by working according to our emotions? I always tell people they need to think with their mind and feel with their emotions. People already make poor decisions because they think with their emotions.”

Emil interrupted my oratorio. “Ed, minds are like muscles: If you don’t use them, they atrophy.”

I jumped back in: “Yep, but technology is unstoppable. The trick is to work around this. Maybe we should put the emphasis on teaching people how to exercise their minds and relate socially. After all, look at how the health-conscious crowd has begun to impact our eating habits.”

“Ed,” Emil replied, “I wonder why we seem to be of one mind.”

I smiled. I knew the answer to that one.

• Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@att.net.