Category Archives: Gadgets
The subject on what puts us on a different level from the countless other living things around us has been something humankind has debated for ages. We know we’re different. We know we’re special. But why? What is it that sets us apart from our animal counterparts? Why is it that we are the dominate species now and have been for thousands of years? What is it about our race that put us so far on top of the totem pole?
There are countless theories coming from as many sources, a good chunk of which are sometimes completely contradictory. Religious and scientific, personal and global.
I thought about it after reading an article from Deadspin linked by @Wired about how a robot apparently was able to write a better news story than a human. In the end, it isn’t particularly surprising that a program could create an automated report based on facts, data, and randomly interjected descriptive words. But it has people wondering; will human writers be replaced by robots? Is this the start of something we’ve seen way too many times in movies but coming eerily close to reality?
Everything evolutionary can be argued as an adaption for survival. Even some of the most beautiful displays mother nature has to offer have some sort of practical function. Attracting mates, pollination, camouflage. Very few creatures in the animal kingdom display a true creative flare; even less do it for no reason at all.
Humanity’s ability to think creatively and innovate is what I feel TRULY sets us apart. There are still tons of other practical factors, of course. Our bodies’ efficient energy usage, for instance, as being bi-pedal helped us out-endure our prey. Advanced communication abilities. Our intelligence. And then we used tools to help us, we created machines to do what we couldn’t do ourselves, and we dominate the world to work for us. We were able to solve the problems that would otherwise have been our downfall. Irrigation allowed us to rely on plants for food, allowed us to become stationary and create communities. Domestication assured us we’d always have the meat or protection we’d need. This is both a blessing and a curse, but in the end it’s the idea of abstract thinking that I believe puts us ahead.
As an artist, I think the other large part of what makes us different is our ability to create for the sake of creation. At some point in our history, we started to draw pictures. Further down the line, the pictures no longer needed meaning. We create music, write stories, and express our emotions not for survival (although some may argue that in a therapeutic way, it is) but just because. We want to. It feels good. So we do it.
That’s what sets us apart from animals. But what about robots? What about AI?
Computers can do amazing things it’s almost frightening. They can even think, so to speak. Anything involving numbers and algorithms, formulas and facts, a computer can do better than most people. But what they cannot do, not yet anyway, is create. Not truly. Yes, we have robots who draw, but all that is really based on software with pre-set factors and/or randomization at best.
It’s popular belief that the moment of eclipse when robots take over the world is when one can truly feel something real. Have an abstract thought, question existence, feel love or hatred. I wouldn’t disagree, however, I feel the pre-cursor to this evolution is when AI can truly create something new and beautiful and purposeless without being guided to do so by programing. It’s a scary thought because while the idea of AI being able to think freely or feel emotion is a long-way off, their ability to be creative seems much closer to home and realistic. What if creation is the stepping stone to emotion?
I don’t know much about science or programming or AI, honestly. But I guess the whole human vs robot apocalypse isn’t so far-fetched after all. There still has to be a lot of factors to allow it to happen, of course. Free-thinking and creative software on its own can, at best, completely shut us out of the digital world. A social shock perhaps, yes, and westernized nations reliant on anything computerized will find themselves extremely vulnerable. But we still have the ability to go outside and farm ourselves food and hunt.
What the AI would need is the hardware (body) to function in, and manipulate its environment. It would also need a lot of bodies. Power in numbers, after all. Lastly, an unlimited power-source. So that’s the golden combination. Solar-energy powered self-thinking painterly robots en masse will be humanity’s downfall. One can only hope mercy is a part of that formula.
I am skeptical as I usually am with any breakthrough technology, especially coming from Apple (I’m not going to mask my love/hate relationship for the beast.) My biggest beef is with this concept of .5 technology, which I just made up so let me explain.
Humanity has a lot of gadgets that we use. Phones, computers, gaming platforms, etc. My idea of .5 technology is pretty much crap that falls in between, or overlaps, the functions of other major products.
The primary function of an iPod is to play music. The primary function of a camera is to take pictures. Then you have the new next-gen iPod that does both Aka iPod5.5. There you have your .5 technology. It doesn’t make much sense, but I have no real way of describing this idea in my head so I just made up my own jargon for it.
So the iPad is, in my mind, the grandmammy of .5 technology. There is nothing this thing does that something else can’t already do (and most gadgets can). It’s trying to be to mobile technology what next-gen (or current-gen at this point) gaming consoles wanted to be for home entertainment. Sure, your computer and dvd player can already play dvds, , but so can your Xbox. Of course your Blackberry can take pictures, movies, make phone calls, browse the web, play music.. So can your camera / laptop / ipod / netbook.
The problem I saw is that too many things can already do anything / everything, so why add another item to the pile?
But taking a step back to really think about it, it’s quite possible the iPad is not another addition to the problem but may very well be a cost effective solution (or the start of one, anyway). The new problem, then, is that it’s way ahead of it’s time.
This product is a super thin, super light touch screen tablet that will allow you to do (like mentioned above) pretty much everything all your other gadgets can do. The key point is in the delivery and the power in being able to access the function of all those items in one, easy to use, and easy to transport piece of technology.
When I travel for a trip lasting more than one overnight, I find myself weighed down by all the crap i bring. A digital SLR, my iPod, phone, laptop, and a book (I was toying with getting a Kindle, too). the iPad could effectively get rid of the need for half of those things (though nothing can replace my darling Nikon D50).
Then there’s the cost. When you go back and think about how much people pay for all those separate items, it can easily add up to or surpass the projected price-tag Apple is pitching — 3G contract isn’t too shabby, either. For the average tech-savvy Joe, it seems almost a dream. Someone who is satisfied with using their phone for pictures can easily find themselves needing only their cell and an iPad and be set.
It’s not all flowers and sunshine, though, and ultimately a there are a lot of downsides to the product.
-First of all, there’s the factor for Apple to consider since they are literally competing with their own products. The .5 technology problem is still there. Other than netbooks, the iPad cannot single-handedly out perform the functions of any other Apple toy, or otherwise, 1 for 1. Even the iPhone, which has the added use of being a phone and camera.
-Touch-screen technology is still an acquired taste for many, and is far from perfect to handle. There’s an attachable full-sized keyboard …but doesn’t that seem out of place and bulky? I’m trying to imagine how you’re supposed to use them together, especially while on a plane or train. It’s awkward and defeats the purpose of the iPad being a mobile device.
-The small memory bank is another let down. 64 gigs max –with a heftier price tag, to boot– to store all the media it’s supposed to display with such flying colors. My Ipod holds more than that.
-The name fucking sucks.
So will it sell? Most likely, but the numbers I predict are going to be considerably lower than people are expecting. I hope Steve jobs & Co. are prepared for this. This isn’t the same world it was in 2007 where people couldn’t get enough of buying crap they don’t need. I hate to say it, the iPad isn’t a breakthrough the way the iPod was. It’s not about to fill the space of some much-needed missing technology, and in a bad economy consumers are going to think twice about impulse buys more than they did in the past.
The light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps, is a few years down the line when people start wanting to replace old, used, and broken technology. The convenience of having it all in one is too tempting for it to just die out-right, but that time just isn’t now.
Now, will *I* get an iPad? Unlikely If I do, chances are it wont be for a very long time. I’m a designer and a gamer. The iPad as it is now is not going to cut it for what I do. I still need the more powerful processing of my laptop to run the software I need for art and the games that I like to play while I’m on the road.
But sometime down the line when my laptop shits out like they all inevitably do and my iPod inexplicably decides to just never start again, there’s a possibility I might want to start consolidating and give this shiny slate of silicon and bytes a go.
As an aside, I’d like to point out this is the first time I’ve really ‘felt’ web 2.0 in action. As I sat there refreshing and sneaking on twitter via Spreadtweets, I bounced ideas back and forth with my fellow twits. I watched as the #apple trend dominated suddenly, backed by iBook, iWork, iPad, etc. With each press of F5 on Wired’s live blog page, I couldn’t help notice the retweet/digg/comment numbers continue to climb.
Kind of fitting.