In Silence You Meet Yourself

October 5, 2017 Sultan Meghji

Yesterday morning an interesting dichotomy presented itself — and I’ve been trying to reconcile it. While live streaming Google’s Pixel event, I had BBC News on in the background and they had an interview with Erling Kagge (who if you don’t know, you should — one of the very few to summit Everest, and visit both poles — the south alone, on foot).

Kagge was speaking of silence, of the benefits of it, the growth, peace and power of it. Google was extending their technology footprint deeper into the always on, always listening, always watching ubiquitousness in the home, in your hand and in your work.

I want the convenience, the luxury of technology always there, always available, always at my fingertips, but I also struggle with the interruptions, the chaos, the distractions (and as anyone who interacts with me knows, 99% of my notifications are silenced). I loved hearing about Amazon’s meeting culture of people sitting silently reading at the beginning of meetings.

As someone who spent the formative parts of his professional life working in NSF and NCSA projects around artificial intelligence and core internet technologies — I’ve had a front row view to the evolution of all of these technologies — and their societal impacts. The question for me now is how to move technologies towards enhancing our human experiences at all levels, and not simply striving for more convenience, more reactive interactions, more noise in the background.

Beyond all the hype, both good and bad around AI, we need to remember that it is just a category of algorithms and not some sort of panacea to solve all the worlds problems — certainly not in the next few years. The technology hype machine has grabbed ahold of AI — the medium term results of which I think are very much unclear.

So for AI — what is its greatest opportunity? To serve as a buffer between us and our technology, this noise, this luxury we all are clamoring for. It’s time to move past paying $1,000 every year or so for a distraction machine and instead find moments to embrace our own unique humanity. And so I won’t be buying the latest smartphone, or interconnected home device. Instead, I will be watching how our technology leaders choose to target their AI — either on valuing and maturing all of humanity or valuing humanity’s commercial potential.

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