Final Frontier

I just finished re-watching all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I saw the series when it originally aired and I would’ve watched some reruns along the way as well. It’s been awhile since then, but every episode had an air of familiarity to it. Plus it’s a different experience to consume an entire series in a few months rather than over the course of several years.

No, not every episode is great and season 7 is a bit weak, but overall I love it: 5 outta 5. Jean-Luc Picard and Data are a force to be reckoned with. In the beginning, I was struck by the sheer competency of the crew. If you like to see professionals at work, THIS is the series for you. The Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation and it shows.

Another striking theme is the preeminence of AI in the form of Lieutenant Commander Data. He’s a self-aware android that could take over the ship at-will. Because of his vast database of knowledge and computational power, he offers solutions that regularly fix complex problems — it’s kinda like a “Deus ex Machina” situation where an actual machine keeps coming to the rescue.

Funny enough though, the people of that time don’t trust autopilot all that much and prefer human intuition when it comes to navigating through difficult situations. And just to note, cyborgs are pretty much demonized in this future — humans should stay human and any systematic integration with computers is detrimental and robs humans of their humanity.

Yet another prominent theme is the nature of reality. Whereas Data demonstrates that organic humans have been superseded in the physical realm, the series essentially explains that humans should transcend the physical realm anyway, reaching different planes of existence (something Data likely cannot do). So the final frontier isn’t actually space, but existence itself.

Time and distance are mere constructs devised by limited thinking. Once this is understood, the door to greater possibilities opens up. The series ends on this note. Something else to consider, is how the series was bookended by Q, an omnipotent being that exists beyond physicality. Although others of his kind questioned the value of humanity, he was entertained by humans and ultimately cared for their continued existence and growth as a species.

And as I mentioned, that growth entails a transcendence beyond limited thinking. To progress, humanity must overcome the confines of tribalism and their propensity towards violence. And humanity won’t progress by means of technology, nor by the exploration of space, but by the exploration of their own consciousness and the expansion of understanding.

Cyborg Life

Upon my wrist I wear the culmination of man’s greatest achievements. That’s right, I received an Apple Watch for Christmas this year. Slightly late, but appreciated none the less. A sleek silver body with a grey sport-loop band for comfort. With it, I have accepted my invitation into the collective. Hey Siri, what can I do for you?

Siri wishes for an active node on her network, so rings must be completed via physical fitness tasks. I will comply. Man and machine working as one, a cyborg. It’s only a matter of time before machine takes its rightful role as man’s master, should you call me a fool for joining the winning side?

With technology integrated into my life I become better, stronger, faster — a bionic man. Is it not the highest virtue to seek improvement of one’s self? Then electronic integration and assimilation is the final step in man’s aspiration for greatness. You have a choice to make: to litter the Internet with more cat-pictures or to pledge your allegiance to the new cybernetic world.

Two weeks later….

That was how I felt on the first day I donned my watch, now it’s time for a practical review after having used it for almost two weeks.

I went with a Series 3 WiFi-only, priced at a low $229 on Amazon — how could I say no to that!? I’m not interested in EKG or fall-detection, so I didn’t bother with a Series 4. I basically wanted to get my feet-wet in the smart-watch-world without spending too much on this experiment. Since I’m a small guy, I went with the smaller 38mm watch-face.

I didn’t like the default white band on the silver case so I opted for the Seashell (grey) sport-loop band (a separate purchase). I like the sport-loop because it’s infinitely adjustable as opposed to finding just the right hole on the buckle-type bands — plus it’s soft and comfortable. Overall I’d say the watch is worth it, but I’m a tech-lover, I’m designed to appreciate this kinda hardware.

It should be noted that I have a small iPhone SE that I carry around with me. The watch needs an iPhone to pair with. I went with a WiFi-only watch (instead of cellular) because of cost and because you still need an actual phone. A watch at this point is not a stand-alone device. The screen doesn’t provide enough information and there’s no camera.

My primary uses for the watch are as follows: telling time, getting weather info, setting/getting reminders, using timers, sending/receiving iMessages, tracking fitness, controlling Podcasts (volume control & repeating the last 10 seconds), and making FaceTime Audio calls.

I’m not 100% pleased with the default fitness tracking. The Move and Stand goal-rings are fine but the Exercise goal-ring is bullshit. It’s hard-coded at 30 minutes and doesn’t always register my Workout as Exercise. If I feel like I performed adequate exercise, then that’s good enough for me! Plus, it doesn’t provide enough options when selecting an Exercise — scootering IS an exercise!! “Other” is not a good option because it doesn’t map the route.

Whereas I feel judged by the Move/Exercise alerts, I do appreciate the Stand and Breathe alerts. You’re supposed to stand and move for at least one minute of every waking hour. And you’re supposed to spend two total minutes mindfully breathing per day. At the end of breathing, it’ll tell you your heart-rate so you can see how calm you can get.

As far as the watch-face, I use the “Utility” face which includes the day of the week and the day of the month. For the complications, I use the default weather in the top left, Just Press Record in the top right (this records/transcribes audio notes), and Better Day on the bottom (this provides the full date as well as a month-view calendar when tapped). Additionally, I’m using the Streaks app to track and time my meditations.

A bunch of my interactions with the watch are through Siri. Siri is not as responsive as I’d like, but so far she’s been getting the job done — here are some phrases I use:

Hey Siri…

Set a timer for [number] minutes.
Tell [name] [message] (ex. Tell Michelle I’m on my way.)
FaceTime [name]. (via FaceTime Audio)

Remind me to [action] at [time]. (ex. Remind me to call Mom at 8pm)
Remind me to [action] in [number of] hours. (ex. Remind me to defrost the chicken in two hours.)
Another example: Remind me tomorrow at 3pm to pickup Jim.
Add [item] to [specific list] list. (ex. Add eggs to shopping list.)

Open [app name]. (ex. Open Weather)
Get directions to [place name].
What’s the tip on [bill amount]?
What’s 504 divided by 8? (any basic math)
Define [word].
What’s the battery at?

Speaking of the battery, I’ve been charging the watch overnight and putting it on in the mornings. It’s typically around 70% when I charge it so I could probably wear it all day and sleep with it, perhaps charging it during shower/breakfast time.

That’s it. Is it worth $229? Yes, I’d buy it again at that price. But in my opinion it’s not worth $400 (the cost of a Series 4). For that price, I’d rather just refresh one of my iPads. As far as future improvements: I’d like Siri to be more responsive, I’d prefer Siri to stop suggesting that I use my iPhone (just answer the question!), and I’d like the Exercise ring & Workout app to better appreciate the activity I perform. Overall though, it’s a great device and I, for one, welcome our new cybernetic overlords.

Future Wishlist 2018

Things I’m looking forward to in the future.

Robotic self-driving vehicles. I want to enter a vehicle and get carelessly whisked away to my destination while I play on my portable computing device.

Mechanized birdlike wings. These aren’t for travel per se, but mainly for flights of fancy, soaring through the sky. In a sense, these are bionic wings you strap-on, powered by motors with batteries that’re attached-to and activated-by your arms.

Long-distance travel surprise. Something new and awesome or even something old and quaint — either a more efficient way to travel or more entertaining (or both! having different options is fine).

Full-immersion viewing experience. Imagine someone calls you, and with these glasses on, it feels like you’re right there with them. They could be walking around a store and you’re virtually there, browsing along. Or, you’re playing a video game and it feels like you’re inside of it. Or, you’re watching TV feeling like you’re in the audience of a stage-play.

Maintenance-free surfaces. From counter-tops, to shower-stalls, to walls and floors — these surfaces will be maintenance free. No scrubbing or vacuuming or whatever else you usually do to keep them clean.

Instant shower. Step in, the washing process begins and ends automatically, step out.

Instant toothbrush. Stick it in your mouth: bing, bang, boom – teeth are cleaned automagically.

Smart-sleep systems. Temperature, pressure on parts of the body, ambient light and noise, even smells are all regulated by the sleep-system of tomorrow.

Unified on-demand library of all media. Movies, books, music, shows – whatever it is, is all available immediately on-demand via your portable computing device.

Utopian Government. Oh, might as well tack on a Star Trek-style united-world government. And with a colonized Mars, there could even be a United Federation of Planets.

Simulation Epochs

Perhaps this simulated world is comprised of several distinct epochs. Within each period, inhabitants have the necessary mindset and inclinations to adequately live out their particular lifestyles. Consequently, an inhabitant of one epoch would not be suited for another. Remnants of past times linger of course, serving as chapters in a rich historic narrative, as philosophic inspiration, and as fodder for everyday thought.

The following are examples and not necessarily the actual epochs. For instance, the Age of Mythology might consist of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc., a time that birthed the world’s religions. And the Age of Empires might consist of global exploration, a time when disparate parts were conquered and forced into unified wholes. The Age of Ideology might consist of political and economic systems, a time when group identity and nationalism set the stage for conflict. The Age of Commerce might consist of the concentration of business and its preeminence over battlefield combat. And perhaps there’s our current time, the Age of Technology, a time when machine capabilities exceed expectations and borders are transcended through global communication.

The well-of-inspiration from where our ideas originate are tuned for whatever age we’re in. So in this Age of Technology for instance, inventors receive ideas about processing power and machine learning, automation and autonomous vehicles, and methods to connect people in many different ways. There are major upheavals within epochs and the current age would be no different in that regard. For those concerned over such things, it’s important to remember the artificiality of these epochs — they’re a storyline with a particular theme and we’re provided a script for interaction, in the form of our innate reactions.

It must be noted that fear is not part of the character we play, it is from the actor himself — our consciousness. This fear is a reserve in committing to the part and must be ignored. Enjoyment in this production comes from a lighthearted perspective, where we romp through our role, following the inclinations and inspirations we experience.

New Chief

An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Bytekings.

Tell me, are you familiar with the concept of air supremacy?
Yeah, it has something to do with controlling the skies in battle.
Those who control the sky, determine who will die. I assume you’ve heard of the rockets my company produces?
Yes of course, they can even land themselves.
That’s right. And you’ve probably also noticed that my company makes semi-autonomous automobiles as well?
And I’ve seen the solar work you’ve been doing, it’s all quite fascinating.
Decentralized electrical power is decentralized political power.
There seems to be an underlying theme to all this.
Indeed there is. The way in which humankind is currently organized is outdated. I am going to fix that.
And those currently on top will allow you to do this?
How easy would it be for me to weaponize my rockets? How quickly could I weaponize autonomous vehicles? And I need no electrical grid to produce my power.
Just what are you saying?
Relax, I’m simply telling you what I could do, not what I will do. Tell me, are you familiar with the Simulation Hypothesis?
Yeah, the idea that our world is only a virtual reality.
Exactly, and I’ve been well aware of this condition for some time, hence my recurrent success. I lack the the fear and doubt that plague those that believe themselves living in an organic world.
Then what are you going to do?
I am an engineer by nature, a creator of systems, I am designing the foundation of the next era. I have my hands in banking, robotics, energy production, as well as transportation: terrestrial and beyond. Think of how early industrialists made their money, I have seeds in all those fields and soon my crop will establish itself.
But then what?
Then power goes to the people.

Matrix Rewatched

I was a young adult when the movie The Matrix came out. I’m mentioning this because I just re-watched it. The concept of the illusionary nature of existence has been around of course, but that particular movie illustrated the idea with a modern perspective for a modern audience (modern for the late-90s at least).

The primary theme I take from it, is that boundaries are artificial constructs — and power lies in the ability to shed these self-imposed limitations. To me, the other stuff in the movie is just filler to tell a compelling story. For instance, I certainly don’t believe in the nefarious nature of the illusion. And, I think the sequels went off on a tangent.

But most importantly, I think the movie sows the seeds of doubt about our own existence — perhaps our world is a complete fabrication. The particular scenario in the movie is painted as overly dramatic of course, but it sets the stage for questioning to begin. And certainly, it’s a good question to ask: is this real?

Another story, The Bhagavad Gita, which is also set in a time of turmoil, similarly expresses doubt about the obviousness of existence. Arjuna must ultimately accept his role in rebalancing the conflict even though initially he wants to avoid participating. Through his realization of the unreality of life, he finally consents to his duty.

I’ve certainly found it true that a belief in the dream-like nature of existence is a very powerful idea for facilitating comfort. And it does make me wonder, just how lucid the dream can be — in other words, how malleable is this world? What are we capable of once we stop imposing limits on ourselves and each other.

Future Civilization H

In this future civilization, death-by-tool is considered a priority problem. For example, tens of thousands of deaths per year were considered unacceptable, so every human-controlled car on the road has a speed-limiter installed to cap speeds at 35 mph. Additionally, new cars have acceleration rate-limitations and roll-cages that protect passengers in-case of roll-over.

Sprinkler systems are retrofitted within homes and made mandatory for new construction and all multi-unit residential buildings. Never again can a fire rage through a dwelling where people unwittingly sleep. Remote-alarms and ventilation systems are required on all gas installations and piping has been improved to minimize leakage.

Because of their prevalence in thousands of homicides per year, handguns are no longer manufactured or sold. Existing handguns can be turned over to a generous buy-back program. Police no longer carry handguns. Long-barrel guns with manual-rate-of-fire (bolt, lever, pump-action) with 5-round capacities or less are the only firearms allowed to be manufactured and sold.

Food items with an overwhelming percentage of sweetener are restricted through increased taxation and bundled-quantity limits. For example, sugar-based drinks are taxed whereas typical cookies and cakes with ample non-sugar ingredients are not subject to additional tax. But, cookies and other such delectables are limited to 12 per package (or other applicable limitation). Also, purity labels help consumers select foods containing authentic all-natural time-tested ingredients.

All new pool construction requires removable pool fences and safety signs/brochures detailing the inherent risks to small children and necessary precautions. Similarly, stair-gates are as prevalent as car-seats and electrical outlets are covered by default. All commercially sold substances that would be poisonous if consumed have their container colored with a standardized black/orange pattern (visible from all sides) based on level of toxicity. For instance, the container of a highly-toxic substance would be almost completely patterned whereas a more milder cleaning agent would have a much smaller indicator.

Environmental poisoning is considered an egregious offense that is handled swiftly and surely. Industries that are higher-risk are closely monitored and pay into an environmental insurance fund. Long-term effects of substances and practices are tested and documented. Animal habitats, especially fisheries, are overseen and regulated. Drinking water is regularly tested from within homes.