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going off grid

About 25 years ago, the term ‘going off grid’ was first used to signify disconnecting from some future  network that connected everything to everything, before the internet was what it now is. Almost like a prophecy, it signified people breaking their 24/7 global connection, becoming more local, more connected with what was around you at any given time and less connected to what wasn’t.

I remember receiving my first email, sent only seconds from the other side of the world. I remember my first digital photo, my first tweet, but first Facebook post, my first domain I owned, my first internet search, my first Blackberry. I remember when connecting one computer to another was a technical chore. I remember the euphoria of it all working and how amazing it all seemed.

As an early adopter of technology, I was  impressed by things that could do what previously you couldn’t. I never really stopped to consider the value of those new things but surfed on the awe of just being able do them. Google arrived long after a small group of people were doing things on the internet that could not have previously been done.  Exciting times indeed.

I remember the advent of mobile phones. I remember the general consensus of people buying mobile phones was ‘just in case’ an emergency happened.

It’s ironic really that now people are fearful of not being connected all the time.

Now whole families sit around a restaurant table all on their mobiles yet being less in touch with the people in front of them. Even in the middle of nowhere in most countries, the phenomenon of being in touch all the time has gripped even the most mountainous remote regions.

I made  a prediction some time ago about Quantum Leaps forward. I said that whilst technology evolved with increasing speed, there would be three things that were game changers. One would be the direction connection between computers and humans at a neural level. No screens, no keyboards but just the ability for all human senses to be stimulated by computers. This was nothing to do with artificial intelligence, but a way of computers tapping into the intelligence that every human already has. The other two which I won’t talk about here were matter transport (beam me up Scotty), and anti gravity capability (no more jet engines to carry people into space). Interesting enough, if computers and humans do integrate, the other two are irrelevant.

Whilst I cannot deny the huge benefit of increased communication, like being able to find out online how to do anything from making a shelf to repairing my boat engine, the drawbacks cannot be overlooked.

We live in a society where more people are more isolated, more depressed, more dependent on anti-depressants than ever before. Communities are breaking down, relying more on lawyers and systems and government just to prop them up.  You can’t help but think people have bought into something that simply will not deliver what they really need. The euphoria that so many products promised, hasn’t materialised and I have a sneaking suspicion in never actually will.

As one of the first users of Facebook (at least I think I was, generally nobody had heard of it at the time) I began to see where the net was going.  Whilst everything and everyone was going to be increasingly connected to everything and everyone else, I had a sense that it would also have a dehumanising effect on people. I made several predictions: real communities would begin to break down, people would become increasingly detached from the real world, mental illnesses would rise amongst younger and younger people, and there would at some point be a backslash of people who are disconnecting from the virtual world and reconnecting with the real one.  In many ways, all of this is happening and I am one who is ‘going off grid’.

Replacing my smart phone with something that only makes calls and texts (the Punkt MP01 if you are interested) was a bit like an addict going cold turkey. It was amazing to realise how much time I spent checking emails, browsing the net, checking statuses of this and that, and not actually being in the present of wherever I happened to be.

This is not to say that being connected doesn’t have any benefits, of course there are many. Yet the 24/7 high speed connectivity addiction has many drawbacks too. One for example, is a lack of peace, a lack of sense of being the moment just where you are.

Yet more significantly is the temptation to hide behind a screen and a username without any sense of responsibility of the words you send. Most social media for example, has created an opportunity to be abusive without any sense of responsibility for that abuse. A neighbour’s teenage daughter for example,  who was a delightful girl, was bullied through social media and sadly committed suicide.

So whilst the thoughts that are elicited through the internet are not caused by the internet itself, it begs the question what is happening in people’s minds that is released just because it is easy to do so. There must be a deeper problem.

I think the deeper problem, which I dare say has always been present, is people’s poor moral choices. Yet perhaps what is changing is that people are increasingly refusing to take responsibility for those choices. Instead, someone else is to blame, some group, some service,  some council or some government.

If people are to make some moral choice, there has to be some yard stick of morality to know if something is right or wrong in the first place. Yet if there is no morality that transcends human beings, then anything goes. So is there an objective morality to which we can align ourselves? Richard Dawkins for example, would deny that there is. If he was right, then really anything goes. It’s whatever works for you, your group, or your government. If another person, another group, another government doesn’t agree, well that’s just how it is. Fight it out, whoever wins is the fittest and should survive.

What if Dawkins (or any of his atheist group) are wrong? What if there is an objective morality and we would all be better off if we could align ourselves to it? What if this morality is transcendent over what people , groups of government think? What if there is an objective truth out there? Wouldn’t it be good to discover what it is?

So back to technology. What if the idea that what we need to be more connected, more efficient, more dependent on artificially intelligent stuff turns out to be false? If it was, then we could look at the world that believes this to be true and actually see the consequences of this. Isn’t that what we are seeing now?

Where are we going with Artificial Intelligence?

There always seems to be something to solve a problem we didn’t know we had until we were told how it would be fixed with the new technology. In fact it has been a common sales practice for ever to highlight a problem we didn’t know we had that could be fixed by a product we didn’t know we needed.

So it is with AI. I do wonder why there is such an effort to do something which the human brain is pretty good at doing in the first place? Or another question, if AI replaces humans (doctors, receptionists, checkout operators) what will be humans doing with their time? Hasn’t it been promised so often that we’ll have much more leisure time, more time with our loved ones and families? Do you know anyone who this is true for? I am sure they exist somewhere, but most people seem busier and busier doing more and more ‘stuff’ of little value.

Consider what Stephen Hawkins said (paraphrasing it), AI is a threat to humanity. Not because of the threat of Terminator style robots killing us all (interesting as the films were) but actually, if AI replaces all the functions that humans perform, what would humans actually do? Would they rise to some transcendent state or sink to the lowest pit of despair? Maybe, just maybe, once everything is hyper-connected and everyone is hyper-stimulated through those computer-neural interfaces, then at that point we’ll ask a bigger question: what it is all about?

Personally, I think the answer is available now. Perhaps all that is required is to disconnect from the grid and open one’s eyes. There’s an amazing world next to you right now, and you’re being invited into it on an amazing adventure.