Tag Archives: skynet

Proof That The Web Makes You Smarter

Currently, I am reading a book called Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson. It is a fascinating examination of how humans have used technology over the last few decades. Thompson works hard to make a point that will have librarians around the world cracking their ink-stained knuckles in preparation for a Dewey-fueled dust-up: the internet isn’t making us dumber – it’s making us smarter.

Remember when Gary Kasparov – regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time – matched wits with IBM’s Deep Blue computer in 1996? Kasparov won the first game, then lost the second a year later. It was the first time a computer had ever beaten a reigning world chess champion, and it was all downhill from there, with our computer overlords consistently beating the pants off of humans after that, no matter how much “creativity” and “gumption” and “outside-the-box thinking” we put into the games.

Paranoid observers immediately predicted a Skynet future full of liquid metal robots, flying cars and slave camps where humans are forced to give elocution lessons to Schwarzenegger-like cyborgs (“The raaaaaaain in spaaaain fowls maaaainy – no, no it’s too haaaad! My braaaaain is hurting so bad!”). Instead, industrious humans realized that our imagination isn’t what sets us apart from supercomputers, it’s our highly evolved knack for cheating.

A few years ago, a highly ranked chess player was tearing up a tournament when somebody noticed that he kept excusing himself for various reasons. “Hmm,” thought a particularly astute judge, “that gent sure seems to be going to the bathroom a lot!” It turns out, he was using his smartphone to research moves. That heel won’t go down in history, but his legacy will. Chess players soon discovered that it was virtually impossible to beat a player that had computer access.

Then, as Thompson tells it, somebody had an idea: let’s teach those pretentious computer jerks a lesson. And they did. Human-computer teams now regularly kick the beans out of computer-only opponents (and human-only opponents as well, it should be said). Deep Blue is so depressed that he hasn’t left his house in years. He just sits around in his pajamas all day watching YouTube videos about rescue dogs.

According to Thompson, the fact that we rely on our smartphones to find information for us hasn’t made our intellects weaker, it’s allowed us to purge our minds of relatively useless information (“Does the kung pao chicken come with rice or not?”) and use that horsepower for cooler things like problem-solving. The internet serves as sort of an external hard drive for our brains.

I’m not saying we can stop educating ourselves. Just the opposite: humans need to educate ourselves on how to make the most of this unbelievable opportunity. Is it really our best use of resources to complain about how today’s youth rely too much on spell check? Why shouldn’t they? Is there really a possibility of some technology-free post apocalyptic future where grammarians match wits in semantic bloodsport? (He split his infinitive! Finish him!) I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure this whole internet thing isn’t a fad, so we might as well make the most of it, don’t you think?

Embrace the cyborg future! Rather than complain about “kids and their phones,” perhaps we should all embrace the new internet-connected reality and teach those whippersnappers a thing or two. Are you with me?

Gaming And The Connectedness Of Life

All of us here at Code Roadies are gamers to some degree. Some like old school video games (Mario!), others prefer casual mobile games (Clash of Clans!) , and some (me included, I suppose) fit the description of a “serious gamer” who partakes in almost all genres (Witcher 3!). Our lead developer used to work at a popular video game retailer, so it would be safe to say that he and his friends qualify as “hardcore gamers.” They’re the kind of guys who pay close attention to things like achievements and gamerscores, change the difficulty settings to “impossible, “beat controller-snapping games like Dark Souls without any trouble and crush me mercilessly when I venture online for attempts at Halo. It’s never a surprise, then, that they tend to be on the forefront of new gaming technology. Recently, they came across one of the first practical connections between gaming and the so-called “internet of things,” and it was pretty cool.

There is a game called Chariot for the XBOX One gaming console, and it interfaces wirelessly with Hue LED lights from Philips to change the color of the room lighting to reflect the environment of the game. You can see a demo of it here, but it doesn’t do justice to how cool the effect looks in real life (the lame “actors portraying gamers” don’t help).

The lights don’t necessarily make the game better (check it out mostly for the couch co-op), but they do make the experience pretty unique. Mostly, though, the gimmick gives us a peek at things to come. I’m not talking about games and lighting effects, here. I’m talking about your oven sending you an email that tells you that your turkey is almost done. The “internet of things” is about to mature, and we need to be ready.

Why does everything need to be connected? It doesn’t, of course. But this is about economics as much as it is technology. The folks who make washing machines need a reason for you to (a) buy a new washing machine and (b) pay them more for a washing machine. Presto! Internet-connected washing machines! But here’s the deal – when applied properly, the “internet of things” really works. Ask anybody who has a smart thermostat or smart locks on their doors, and they will rave to you about the peace of mind that they provide.

Here at Code Roadies, we’re not programming our websites to work with your fridge (yet), but we simply cannot ignore the ramifications of this impending connectedness. Why can’t a website check the contents of your fridge before suggesting a few extra purchases in order to prepare a delicious recipe? Why can’t it check to see if your TV is compatible with a new video service before suggesting a movie? I know it sounds a little scary (nobody is thrilled that their car can now get hacked), but I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get more prevalent in the future.

The web is growing. It may be starting with games and lights, but it will soon reach more and more into the real world. We can either cry “Skynet!” as we put on our tinfoil hats, or we can do everything in our power to make sure that the “internet of life” makes the world better for all of us. That’s what we’re going to do. Are you coming with us?