Category: Technology

Welcome to a tea party

Issues of faith and ethics are central to our conversation about rapid technological change (see previous posts). A related issue is the way faith itself is impacted by the technology of mass communication (particularly the “silo” effect of social media). I’d like to invite Diana Butler Bass into this conversation.

DBB writes an occasional blog called The Cottage. Point 4 of her January 11 post is: “The internal tensions and divisions of American Christianity will continue to dominate our political life, both overtly and more surreptitiously.” She writes that Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, and Hakeem Jeffries are all Baptists, a reality worthy of “an entire dissertation in American religious history.”

DBB invites conversation about “what it means to be Christian in a less-Christianized world. … humility and hospitality” to “embody a beautiful biblical faith that contributes to a flourishing, fairer world.” … “Ignoring religion and politics won’t spare us from divisions, anger, and pain. Ignoring them ensures that even more extremist and more dangerous forms of Christian politics will arise to the detriment of not only American politics but to Christianity itself.”

I left a comment for DBB at her blog: I try to have a virtual cup of tea each day with Phyllis Tickle and John Lewis, simply to ask them, “What should we do now?” At tea today, we’ll discuss this post. Thank you!

From “Congress and the Religion Imbalance,” by Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage, January 11, 2023

This digital age

The underlying theme for Tuesday’s meeting about how to deal with rapid technological change was this: It’s a great time to be alive! Just as the industrial revolution brought greater complexity, this digital age brings a similar thoroughgoing change, with pluses and minuses of technical specialization. Some jobs disappear while others are created.

My friend Ernie named seven ethical issues for us to consider. Here are two: (1) workers displaced by smart machines; and (2) growing inequality. These require creativity regarding education, work and income. How do we educate for breadth and depth, while adapting to rapid change? How does our system of work adapt when machines generate much of the world’s wealth?

One change I’ve noticed is the increasing number of people in university teaching roles who are Professors of Practice, including Joyce Vance (University of Alabama School of Law), Ben Jealous (University of Pennsylvania School of Communication) and Andrew Weissmann (New York University School of Law).

From Never Forget Our People Were Always Free, by Ben Jealous, 2022

Elders

Our monthly meeting, pre-pandemic, was for lunch and discussion. Now, we meet for 60 minutes via Zoom. Yesterday’s 20 attendees came from Alabama, North Carolina (2), Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas (the home of yesterday’s presenter).

The group began many years ago as an informal gathering of laity and clergy, skewed toward older adults. Yesterday, one attendee was 92, one was 91. We have a strong 80s contingent. We’re living into our somewhat whimsical name, the Elders.

The largest group by vocation is clergy, mostly United Methodists, but yesterday’s group included two Baptists and an Episcopalian. Present were educators, engineers, counselors, a psychiatrist, an attorney, a financial advisor, and a military retiree.

We’re exploring the privilege and challenge of rapid technological change. How can we collaborate from our various disciplines for a healthier, more humane planet? I’ll share more in coming posts. Click the link below for a brief book review.

From a Kirkus Review of The Power of Crisis, by Ian Bremmer, 2022

The more you know…

I think it was my mother, but I can’t be sure. It’s a version of a thought attributed to Aristotle: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” The version I internalized in my childhood was: “The more you know, the more there is to know.”

Aristotle’s version implies some humility, which is a virtue, but the version I learned opens the Universe to further exploration. It implies that knowledge is cumulative, that one data point leads to perhaps numerous other data points. The Universe is expansive.

Today, I’ll be part of a meeting where my friend Ernie will lead part two of a discussion about recent rapid advances in science and technology, specifically the impact these advances have had on our ability to adapt to changes they’ve brought about.

A few weeks ago another friend, Burton Flanagan, shared with me his book, The White Rose, about a resistance group in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. The group was unknown to me, but on Saturday I read about the group in a Minnesota newspaper article.

The more you know…

From “‘The More You Know’: There’s More to Know,” by Megan Garber, The Atlantic, December 16, 2014

100 years ago

My dad’s birth was among the events of 1923. Among the 1923 forecasts about life in America in 2023 was this prediction by Charles Steinmetz: “The time is coming when there will be no long drudgery and that people will toil not more than four hours a day, owing to the work of electricity.” He visualized that every city would be a “spotless town,” also due to the work of electricity.

Those predictions were compiled by University of Calgary faculty member Paul Fairie, who noted that aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss (1878-1930) predicted that by 2023, “gasoline as a motive power will have been replaced by radio, and that the skies will be filled with myriad craft sailing over well-defined routes,” which the Minneapolis Journal deemed “an attractive prophecy.”

The last time the US House of Representatives needed more than one ballot to elect a Speaker was in 1923, when Frederick Gillett (1851-1935) was re-elected on the ninth ballot. After serving three terms as Speaker of the House (1919-1925), Gillett served one term in the US Senate (1925-1931).

From “What happened when the Speaker of the House was NOT chosen in the first round of elections,” by Terry Moseley, The Daily Mail, January 3, 2023

Consider the source

Elise Jordan’s October focus group conversation with Pittsburgh-area voters included an interesting comment by one of the folks about his sources of information. In my final years as a church staff person, I became increasingly aware that conversations with parishioners tended to be heavily shaped by their choice for TV or Internet news.

My two most recent posts (about Joyce Vance) reveals that she is one of several voices that help shape my understanding of current events. Others include Barbara McQuade, Chuck Rosenberg, Neal Katyal, Admiral James Stavridis, Ambassador Richard Haass, Ambassador William Taylor, and Eddie Glaude, Jr., to name a few.

Today, much of our information comes from a plethora of unvetted, sometimes anonymous sources on the Internet, supplied by individuals and organizations, including propaganda from various governments. Who and what are your information sources?

From “Trump voters in focus group say he couldn’t have stopped Jan 6 violence,” by Elise Jordan, Morning Joe, MSNBC, October 24, 2022.

After the “longest night”

What a privilege to be alive during the era of lunar exploration and the James Webb telescope! These technologies amplify the beauty of this oasis we call Earth. The ancients intuitively understood this blessing from ground level. Jeremiah spoke of the God who lights up the day with sun and brightens the night with moon and stars, who whips the ocean into a billowy froth.

Two millennia before Jeremiah, around 3200 BCE, some people built a tunnel to direct the sun’s rays at the winter solstice to a special “passage tomb” at Newgrange, Ireland, 66 kilometers north of Dublin. Today, it’s a popular, year-round tourist site. Each December, a lottery is held to allow a small group of people to participate in a special sunrise winter solstice celebration.

Newgrange is one of the more fascinating places on Earth. Several short videos provide a glimpse into this historic tribute to ancient mystical ingenuity, including a 2 1/2 minute clip from National Geographic, others from Irish Central, and an essay by Ciaran Vipond with a brief video.

From “Winter Solstice at Newgrange–Inside the Passage Tomb,” a 2 1/2 minute segment of an interview with Professor Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, by RTE, the Irish public broadcast service.

Humbly confident adaptability

How can we use technology for ethical, healthy purposes while limiting its destructive uses? The daunting nature of rapid change can keep us humble while we muster the confidence to face the future with adaptability that is purposeful and flexible.

John E. Kelly III, in Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late, describes three eras of computing: (1) a tabulating era (1900s-1940s), with single purpose mechanical systems to count, sort and interpret data; (2) a programming era (1950s to 2007) of computers, the Internet and smart phones; and (3) an emerging cognitive era, with the capacity to write multiple algorithms that could teach a computer to make sense of unstructured data … and thereby enhance every aspect of human decision making.

Three examples: (1) the rise, fall and re-purposing of IBM’s Watson; (2) Nick Saban’s complex “process” that adapts to changing excellence in athletic acumen and skill; and (3) the Internet of Things (IOT) via the “cloud,” a word for connected data storage systems. The insurance industry is excited about self-driving vehicles because this technology will be safer than human drivers. I’m excited because it may get here before the kids take away my keys,

From “How Champions Think: Coach Nick Saban and the Process Thinking Mental Model,” by Ryan Duffy, Knowable, April 4, 2022.

Dynamic stability

This is the third post about Thomas Friedman’s 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. A brief excerpt of Friedman quoting Eric “Astro” Teller:

There are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state. …

When that happens, said Teller, “in a weird way we will be calm again, but it will take substantial relearning. We definitely don’t train our children for dynamic stability.”

We will need to do that, though, more and more, if we want future generations to thrive and find their own equilibrium.

My understanding of dynamic stability is this: Our tacit knowledge (what we learned from our parent figures, in school, in our life experience, our humble share of the accumulated human wisdom and common sense) coupled with new, lifelong learning discoveries and insights we make each day. (Tomorrow: Some personal examples.)

From “George the Skateboarding English Bulldog,” a 4 1/2 minute video from ClarkCountyNV, via YouTube

Addressing the problem

Thomas Friedman: …if it is true that it now takes us ten to fifteen years to understand a new technology and then build out new laws and regulations to safeguard society, how do we regulate when the technology has come and gone in five to seven years? This is a problem. (Current example: SBF and FTX.)

We go to school for twelve or more years during our childhoods and early adulthoods, and then we’re done. But when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.

Eric Teller, per Friedman: If we could “enhance our ability to adapt even slightly… it would make a significant difference.” He then returned to our graph and drew a dotted line that rose up alongside the adaptability line but faster. This line simulated our learning faster as well as governing smarter, and therefore intersected with the technology/science change line at a higher point.

In sum, said Teller, what we are experiencing today, with shorter and shorter innovation cycles, and less and less time to learn to adapt, “is the difference between a constant state of destabilization versus occasional destabilization.” The time of static stability has passed us by, he added. That does not mean we can’t have a new kind of stability, “but the new kind of stability has to be dynamic stability.” (More tomorrow.)