Technology Is Waaaaaay Overrated

You probably think your phone is hot stuff, right? I mean, who wouldn't? You can text, call, email, facebook, instagram, snapchat, youtube, tiktok, game, read news, surf the web... you get the point. It's great. But... is it really? No. And do you want to know why? Well, I'll tell you... in exactly 2,766 words. You see, I wrote an entire essay to prove my point. And that's not all. I wrote an entire program to augment it. Yep, you read that right. A program. Like, software. That you download and run on your computer. And I know what you're thinking. "Man, this guy must really want me to know why technology isn't so good." And you're 502% right. So, without further ado, here it is. My essay.

Essay

Oh wait, jk. Before you read this, there is some stuff you should know. Like:

Ok, now. You can read.

Technology -- Not As Great As You Thought

Introduction

Technology. It's the way of the future... or so they said. It makes life simpler... so they said. It solves all your problems... so they said. But... does it really? The short answer is: no! The longer answer, however is slightly more complicated. While it's true that computers, phones, and the technology that powers them do simplify things quite a bit by keeping us all connected and up to date with the happenings in the world, automating the boring stuff that we hate doing ourselves, and so much more, it fails to live up to its legacy. It isn't really all it's cracked up to be. In our darkest hour, in our most troubling times of need, the electronic industry has let us down. You need an example? Well, let me point something out. Last March, as the world began to go crazy, and everyone and their mother was quarantined at home trying to avoid the Corronavirus, countless jobs were left unfilled. Employees were laid off and tasks that needed doing could not be done. The economy began collapsing and the industries that need human assistance to function properly were shutting down. It would seem that technology would have been a perfect solution. After all, AI (Artificial Intelligence) has come quite a long way in the last few years. Machine learning and virtual assistants can do things as complicated as learning your personal habits and adapting the way your phone or computer works to better meet your needs. If we can do that, though, why couldn't we have just stuck a robot into the empty job slots humans couldn't fill? If technology is so advanced, where was it then, and where is it now? Technology is not as great as you think it is, and has no business fully replacing humans.

Pros

That's not to say that technology is totally useless. Not at all! It has certainly done its fair share to make the world a better place. We don't have to write letters anymore, we can communicate instantly with whoever we want with a few taps on a screen. We don't have to worry about printing out and memorizing long, convoluted routes to destinations, as in this day and age, we can get directions just by asking. We have virtually boundless information at our fingertips at all times. Knowledge is no longer half the battle. And this is great! We live in a world that our ancestors could not have even dreamed of, where no longer are we forced to handwash dishes or clothes, no longer do we have to rely on shade from trees to keep us cool, and no longer can we even contemplate walking anywhere... because now we can drive. We owe it all to technology and the mind-boggling advancements mankind has made with it these past few years. Life has become simpler. Things have become easier. Technology plays a big part in our lives, and it looks like it's here to stay (Soyka 2019).

The onset of an electronic era has revolutionized the way we do practically everything. We work different, learn different, and live different, which is pretty awesome. Kids today are offered a better education because of the extensive knowledge and information made available to us via the internet and teachers can better connect with students with the vast amount of learning resources out there. Technology has also merged into the working class in many industries. Its introduction into the office has enabled countless businesses to become more productive as long and complicated tasks sped up to take almost no time. Programs such as JAWS (job access with speech) and NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access) have opened up the job market for formerly unemployed visually impaired people, which has broadened the potential criteria for hiring. Every employee is now on the same level and everyone is able to work together in a team as never before with collaboration services such as slack, Microsoft teams, and virtual Zoom cloud meetings.

But...

With all this in mind, it's certainly hard to see why technology could in any way be negative. It has done so much for society and the quality of daily life. It has made its way into both the research and medical fields, and scientists are able to use the power of computers to carry out simulations and theoretical situations virtually, saving time and money when solving problems. There are even programs that allow anyone to contribute unused computer resources to these causes, such as _Folding _At _Home. But there's a dark side of the moon. As we use electronics almost all of the time, and as we input data to them on every occasion, it would make sense that this data is stored somewhere or sent to somebody. Sure, you can take a dazzling photo of the sunset out your window and post it on Facebook, but the metadata attached to image file would give plenty of people access to your GPS location. Sure, you can sign in to an online account with your phone so you can do cool things like make backups to the cloud and sync content across multiple devices, but the company hosting all that for you can get tons of imformation about you and your habits. Yeah, you can stay safe and secure by using a vpn, but guess what? Instead of sending your network traffic to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) you're now sending it to whoever is providing the server from which your IP address now comes from. And I can almost guarantee no company that gets anything from you will ever delete it.

How Your Data Is Used

The amounts of information that technology gathers about you are massive, and they are only helped out by the fact that you probably use electronics a lot and take them with you everywhere you go. Nearly every phone contains a GPS, and there are probably apps on yours that have access to the information it calculates about your location, which is obtained by triangulating your latitude and longitude via nearby cell towers and WI-FI hotspots. And if the companies who distribute these apps to you are untrustworthy, there's no telling what they'll do with that. From Facebook, who have been known to store user passwords in unencrypted plaintext and expose your personal information to anyone who wants it, to VPN providers, who you are now sending all your web traffic too, may sell your data to advertisers to achieve something called targeted advertising. Google is a perfect example of a company who has a monopoly on such a concept. When you've got the entire internet indexed, you provide free email accounts to anyone who wants one, and save every search passed through your servers, it can be pretty easy to design algorithms that can turn all that data into commercials. The same AI that recommends YouTube videos to you based on your interests also puts ads in front of you, and because it remembers everything you ever looked up, itís got a pretty good chance of getting you to buy something you might like. Google also sells phones, which ask you upon setup to log into your Google account. Now, yet more data is collected on you, your habits, your interests, and well, anything really. It's all saved to a profile, and that profile is analyzed constantly to better suit you.

Where Does AI Come In?

If I listed all the ways that data is collected and how it could be used against you, I'd be here a while. There are virtually endless stories of companies selling, trading, or otherwise using what they know about you to make a profit. AI plays a big part in this, as it remembers what you do and constantly searches for patterns so that it can make your life easier. From simple things, like recognizing the way you text and recommending commonly used words to speed up typing, to bigger things, like predicting what music you like based on what you've listened to before, it's always trying to help you out. And this is precisely why it is such a bad fit for the workplace. Computers are great at automating things, that is to say, repeating them over and over. In certain places, such as factories and assembly lines, the same task happens again and again, and because it doesn't change, you could program a robot and tell it exactly what it needs to do. In fact, this is how most cars are manufactured... very little human assistance is required. But, on the other hand, we have the medical industry. Although we have used technology to research, develop, and even diagnose, we have not lost doctors to technology for a very good reason (Arnold 2018). And that reason is because no matter how good AI is, it'll never be able to predict or deal with something as complicated as a surgery. That simply isn't something you can tell a machine to do. Every operation is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to every patient.

Automation Example

If you were to examine the source code of most automation software, you would see that a lot of it revolves around loops, which execute certain functions again and again. You'd also notice what are called conditionals, which tell a computer what to do based on a certain condition. This is automation at its simplest, and it's actually a very easy to understand concept. Let's say that you wanted to become a smarter person, so you download this program that texts you Merriam Webster's word of the day at seven in the morning, every morning. You run it, input your phone number, and it does its thing. Little do you know how much that program is really doing though. Most of the time, it's asleep. Let's take a look at the actual code that it's composed of.

Show Code (# indicates a comment and is ignored by the computer) #specifying the modules we'll need import datetime import time import feedbrowser import twilio #(the module that handles texting) #define the main function of our program def main(): #setting a variable (d) equal to the function that pulls the word of the day from an updated feed on the Merriam Webster site d = feedparser.parse('https://www.merriam-webster.com/wotd/feed/rss2') word = d.entries[0]['title'] word_description = d.entries[0].description #send the word of the day to a phone number = input("please enter your number") #now texting the number with the variables word and word_description twilio.send_message(number, word, word_description) #now autamating the function to run at seven every morning #placing it in a loop so that it will run every day until you stop it while True: #setting the current time equal to a variable called time time = datetime.datetime.now() if time == 07:00: #then call our main function that actually sends us the word of the day main() #put the program to sleep until the next day since we don't need it to do anything else time.sleep(85800) else: #if it is not seven oclock, wait for 30 seconds and check again time.sleep(30)

That was a very easy task to automate. All the computer has to do is check the time until it is seven in the morning, then execute the code that sends you the word of the day. Computers are excellent at this, because they don't get bored by constantly looking to see if it is time to do what they need, and they don't get tired of doing the same thing over and over. Furthermore, the programmer knew exactly what the computer needed to do, and spelled it out precisely.

What Happens When The Going Gets Tougher?

But, when the tasks a machine needs to do continually become more complex, and they don't repeat in any sort of pattern, a machine cannot begin to predict how to handle the situation. Sticking with our word of the day example, let's say that you want the program to instead send you the new word at a different time, since you don't wake up at 7:00 in the morning on weekends. It would be easy enough to add that feature in, we'd just need to write a conditional that checks what day of the week it is. But let's say that you have a constantly changing phone number, and you need the program to send the word of the day to it every time it changes. That is nearly impossible to do. Sure, you could type in your phone number whenever you need to. But that defeats the whole purpose of automation. You still have to interact with the app in some way. This is similar to what it would be like if robots replaced us in the workplace. Let's say that we have implemented AI in place of all human accountants at an office. All accountants do is look at financial records to make sure a business is operating smoothly, and Computers are great at crunching numbers. So there really isn't anything somebody would need to sit there and do, right? Wrong. What would happen if a business was not operating smoothly? Spending would have to be cut in some way. How is a machine going to be able to cut costs in the company's best interests? Computers are really not good at problem solving. Yeah, you can program instructions for different conditions into your software, but at the end of the day, there is no way that AI would win out over an actual human brain. As we can create and innovate in real-time, and make the best decision based on any information, we are still primarily the worker of choice when it comes to non-repetitious tasks. It isn't just decision-making that AI can't do though. Think about something as simple as a piece of paper on a flat surface, and how you'd pick it up. You'd have to drag it so that an edge is hanging free or pinch it and pull it away. A computer would not in any way be able to do what you can without having had explicit instructions programmed into it on exactly how to face this situation (simon 2020). And there is no way you can code for every eventuality.

Conclusion

Itís certainly a great world we live in today. A lot of our lives have been so simplified by the creation of modern technology, and everybody has so much power and information at their disposal. But sometimes, itís just not worth it. If you consider the amount of data your phone and computer collect and remember about you, the prospect of a totally connected world becomes dimmer. Not only do the companies that you trust and use products from every day save your info, but sometimes they donít even do you the courtesy of encrypting it and it protecting against hackers and cyberattacks. Then thereís AI, which everyone seems to think will take their jobs. But that will never happen, because it just isnít designed to do everything we can. There is a reason artificial is part of its title. It is good at learning tasks to do over and over again, but cannot problem solve whatsoever. For example, Google created a bot that could play and win a total of 49 Atari games using deep learning. ButÖ thatís pretty much all it could do, and each time it beat one game, you had to teach it the rules for the next one (Vinsent 2016). That isnít too much different from how a human would have to handle a situation, but with a human, one can learn multiple games without forgetting all the rules of the one previously played. AI must be trained every time. This is why, even with a competent robot, jobs will remain secure. Instead of replacing human workers, machines will augment their positions. This holds true for life outside the workforce as well. Deep learning has greatly simplified the lives of everybody, but especially the visually impaired. Computers can now be trained and programmed to recognize text, images, and can even be combined with facial recognition to describe what people are in a photo to those who canít see it. It can recognize light intensity, color, and currency. But hereís the thing. While itís great that there are tools out there that are able to do all those things, they canít be used without human assistance. AI can tell me, as a blind person, what is written on a piece of paper with 98% accuracy every time, but it canít tell me what color my shirt is 30 percent of the time. It can tell me if Iím holding $20 or $100 before I give my money to a dishonest cashier almost perfectly, but it canít tell me what I just took a picture of very well at all. This is because things like text and money hardly ever change, while there are tons of colors out there and tons of things I could have taken a picture of. Technology is just not as great at adapting to changes, and just really is not as great as you think.

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