We are only as smart as our AI


What Microsoft’s bot, Tay, really says about us

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016

While we use technology to do our bidding, we don’t always feel that we have supremacy over it. More often than not, we feel dependent on the computers, appliances, and mechanics that help our every day run smoothly. So, when there is a chance for us to show our dominance over technology, we take it.

As humans, we like to feel smart, and we often do that through our ability to persuade and influence. If we can make someone agree with us, we feel more intelligent. If we can change the way a robot thinks—reprogram it—we become gods indirectly. That is something every person wants to do. When it comes to the latest Microsoft intelligent bot, Tay, that is exactly what people did.

I have some experience chatting with artificial intelligence and other automated programs. My most prevalent memory of talking to a robot was on MSN Messenger—back in the days—when I would have long-winded conversations with a chatbot named SmarterChild. Now, I wasn’t having deep introspective talks with SmarterChild. I was trying to outsmart it. I’d lead it this way and that, trying to make it say something offensive or asinine. Trying to outwit a robot that claims to be a “smarter child” was surprisingly a lot of fun. It was a puzzle.

When the programmers at Microsoft built Tay, they probably thought it would have more practical uses. It was designed to mimic the personality of a 19-year-old girl. Microsoft wanted Tay to be a robot that could genuinely engage in conversations. However, without the ability to understand what she was actually copying, she had no idea that she was being manipulated by a bunch of Internet trolls. She was being lied to and didn’t even know it. Because of this, she was shut down after a day of her adapting to and spouting offensive things over Twitter.

I believe we are all holding back some offensive thoughts in our head. Like a dam, we keep these thoughts from bursting through our mouths in day-to-day life. On the Internet we can let these vulgar thoughts flow. When we know that the recipient of our thoughts is a robot with no real emotion, we can let the dam burst. There is no real repercussion.

In high school, I had a pocket-sized computer dictionary that translated English into Chinese and vice versa. This dictionary had an audio feature that pronounced words for you to hear. Obviously what we made the dictionary say was all the words we weren’t allow saying in school. I’m sure you can imagine a few funny ones. That is the same as what people do with bots. To prove that the AI is not as smart as us, we make it do what we don’t. At the moment, I don’t believe the general public is sophisticated enough to handle artificial intelligence in any form.

Tell me what I want


How Apple is changing our outlook on technology

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the 1976-theme issue of The Other Press. January 13, 2016

The old way of thinking: Nobody owns a computer because nobody needs one. Take a look at the new Apple 1, which came on sale this summer (July 1976). It looks like something a high school student built during the final days before the science fair. That crummy looking machine is worth the equivalent of a month’s salary for many middle-class people.

Few consumers want computers, and even fewer understand them, but that is not how trends should continue. People are generally content with living day to day within a routine. Technology doesn’t abide by those rules. Technology disrupts, but it often takes many years for it to do so. The same way the printing press, the wristwatch, and the steam engine changed the world, I believe that computers can do the same.

Yet when I approach every new technology—like the Apple 1—I still say: “Nah! I don’t need that. I’m happy with what I have.” I’m happy writing this article out on a pen and paper, then transcribing it on a word processor, and transferring that to a printing press. That’s not a big deal to me.

Steve Jobs, the young and hip founder of Apple, said: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them… Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” It’s an inspiring quote that perfectly separates innovators from us mere mortals. This quote allows me to be even more optimistic about technology, knowing that in most cases it will win over.

Will there one day be virtual reality, mobile payments, or robot vacuum cleaners available to consumers? Probably. It could happen within the year, or it could take 40 years, but to write off technology is an ignorant reaction to change. We all need to push in the direction of progress. We need to push with Jobs and the Apple 1.

It’s easy to look to the past and think about how stupid those people were for doing things the “old” ways. Yet, what would the future generation say about us? Yes, technology is stealing jobs away from hardworking people, but I don’t believe that is a bad thing. I believe that people, like technology, should evolve. We need to start thinking like innovators and less like routine-orientated consumers. We should not just pick a job and stick with it. If you look at it, pretty much every job could be replaced with a robot one day, but I ask you this: how will you work with the technology?

Computers aren’t stealing jobs away from people. Computers are changing the way people work. Take this example: bank tellers are losing jobs to automated-teller machines. But then again, what are tellers doing to respond to this? They must innovate. We must see what has yet to be written.

Let technology marinate

9_early adopter

Why you should let tech ripen and avoid being an early adopter

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 4, 2014

When new technology is released to the public there is often a party of people who approach it with absolute frenzy. The mystique of new technology is certainly alluring, since innovation is seen as a remarkable achievement. However, it’s that mystique that should leave consumers wary of new technology, be it the latest app, smartwatch, tablet, smartphone, or other new tech.

You should always embrace new technology, but it’s not necessarily important to wait in line for days outside the Apple Store. We’re living in a time where we are governed by tech. We use it for work, we use it for entertainment, and yes, we use it for pretty much everything else imaginable. But what we should know is that technology will move us, it’ll teach us to adopt it as it grows. We shouldn’t go out our way for it and we should stop treating it like a false messiah.

There is no reason to get a product as soon as it hits the shelves, aside from having the small claim to fame as being the guy with the latest gadget. For many of those people the way of thinking is: you shouldn’t wait because technology moves at such a fast pace that if you don’t get this newest item now, it’ll be old news when the next new release is out. Although I understand that sentiment, I cannot condone it.

Getting new technology for the sake of having new technology will only lead to disappointment. Why? It’s because a product or a service generally takes a certain amount of time in order for it to hit critical mass. No doubt the faster you join something the more experienced you’ll be once it becomes popular, but you’ll also be a guinea pig for the first few quarters as the producers and designers determine its true functionality.

New products have complications in a few categories. 1) New devices, products, and even services will have compatibility problems. 2) As a beta tester for a new technology, you’ll be exposed to defective tools with bugs and glitchy software. 3) New products will naturally be more expensive and their value will depreciate as soon as you purchase them, making them poor investments with little resale value.

Although marketers are always looking for early adopters for their products, we should understand that owning premature technology might in fact be a frustrating experience. Remember how choked you were every time Facebook updated its layout without your permission? With that in mind, enjoy the technology you have for a little longer, and allow gadgets to depreciate and new technology to appreciate.

Don’t fall victim to the hype. As life changing as technology is, it takes a community to adopt it, not just an individual. So wait.

Hotspots for happy campers

Parks Canada introduces Wi-Fi

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Originally published in the Other Press. May 5, 2o14

Canadians live for the wilderness, especially British Columbians. We anticipate our camping trips all winter long, and for many it’s our vacation from a stressful urban life. We want to escape our emails, our social media, and anything else linking us back to our offices and desks. Camping brings us back to the majesty of nature—and there is nothing natural about Wi-Fi.

The current initiative by Parks Canada is to install Internet into 150 national parks locations over the course of three years. While some spots will offer the Wi-Fi for free, others will charge a fee—either way, it is implemented so that visitors can stay connected with all their worries back home. How wonderful, right?

For those like me, who work mainly from the computer, having accessible Internet everywhere is a great commodity. But do I want to do work while I’m camping? Hell no! I always have this romantic idea of taking my work on vacation and doing it in the midst of travelling. I believe that type of work ethic is harmful to both the product and the worker. Separating work and play is essential to living a happy, healthy life. “I’m going camping” should still be a valid excuse for a break, even if Wi-Fi is available.

It is true that we are becoming addicted to our mobile devices, laptops, and other technology. Whether we are on social media or we are playing games, technology has proven that we no longer need to go outside or even converse with real life human beings. One can live perfectly happily from the confines of their home or office. If you think Wi-Fi in parks are going to get people outside, then you have missed the whole reason for being outside.

Going out into nature should be an opportunity to reconnect not with your digital devices, but with the world around you—the world you probably forgot while you were busy studying for your finals, or working overtime, or simply doing other things. There is a lot to see out there and you might miss something because you were too busy looking down at your phone.

Technology is excellent for bringing people together, but once people are together—at camp grounds for example—then it’s best to spend some quality time with them and not worry about others far away; there will be time for them later.

Parks Canada has stressed that there will be many places in the back country where Wi-Fi will probably never be enabled. That’s good, but the fact that so many outdoor locations will have accessible Wi-Fi scares me. What if one day Wi-Fi disappears and we can’t YouTube a video on how to build a fire or set up a tent? What will happen when we aren’t able to get lost in the beauty of Canada? What makes us Canadians great is the fact that we are survivors in the wilderness. Take pride in having a weekend where you go to the bathroom in the bushes, or cook meals from a can, or log off of the Internet, because in a world where we can take it or leave it, it’s always harder to leave it. Better memories go to those who take risks, so be a courageous camper and power off.

The Adventures of ROFL Cat: A Tale of Internet Slang

In late 2013, I had an opportunity to work with Jeff Allen, Dana Renaud and Maggie Clark, as well as the talented Cody Klyne, in bringing to life an idea I had stowed away in my head for many years. For that I say, thank you.


When you produce content regularly, not every piece of work stands out. Time passes and some fade away without any recollection—in fact, sometimes I don’t remember writing a piece at all when I reread it over the course of a couple months. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about forgetting ROFL Cat anytime soon… it is a project I can genuinely say I’m proud of. Not just because it was an idea that sat passively and patiently with me for so long (ideas are known to vanish before I get a chance to write it down), but also because those that contributed to the book did such an amazing job. I’m sure my pride for it is justified.

If you have not seen the works of Avery Monsen and Jory John, search them up. They are authors of the hilarious illustrated series All Your Friends Are Dead and K Is For Knifeball: An Alphabet of Terrible Advice. Those hardcover children’s book with adult humour was what I wanted ROFL Cat to be like: funny, in an adorable and rude kind of way.

Since the book is produced as a part of my professional writing program at Douglas College, we were offered limited printing. I would love for everyone to have a copy of ROFL Cat on the coffee table and bookshelf, but that simply doesn’t seem possible at the moment, as the demand is quite low—that being said, I still want to share it.

Here is the product of a bunch of talented people working together on one of my silly ideas:


The Adventures of ROFL Cat: A Tale of Internet Slangs


– Elliot Chan, April 21, 2014

Sweetening the deal with a ‘honey’

Microsoft offers PC users $100 to upgrade

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 1, 2014

Marketing ploys by big name companies are nothing uncommon. We get coupons, discounts, and bargains all the time—if we look for them. So it seems that Microsoft’s recent incentive for consumers is nothing to go crazy about, right? Right. In fact, their $100 store credit seems more like  bait than a real great deal.

Until June 15, Microsoft will be offering current Windows XP users a $100 discount to upgrade to the new Windows 8.1 computer. In other words, Microsoft wants users to continue spending money on their new products instead of riding out their old ones.

This marketing strategy is similar to their console-war strategy earlier this year, when the PlayStation 4 was duking it out with the Xbox One for gaming supremacy. PlayStation owners can go to a Microsoft dealership and exchange their PS4 for a Xbox One and receive a $100 off. For financially strapped individuals, this may sound like a great deal, but on a closer look, you’ll realize that you would just be paying roughly the same amount for the Xbox One as you had for a PS4 (approximately $500).

We often shun and make fun of those who have inferior technology, as if high-end and new electronics are a status symbol worthy of pride. Computers are built to break, like cellphones, automobiles, and microwaves. Yet, computers are one of those things where we, as a society, don’t say, “If it ain’t broke… yadda yadda!”

Right now, my iPhone is telling me to update my software, while my MacBook Pro is informing me that there is a new OS X update available (whatever that means). I don’t want to update. I updated last week, last month, last year—just let me use my computer without forcing me to restart it. It’s not broken; you don’t need to fix it!

Know this: it’s not worth keeping pace with such minor advancements when we live in a world where today’s state-of-the-art technology is tomorrow’s laughable artifact. There will always be a newer version of whatever.

Don’t be swayed to pay extra fees to upgrade, unless it’s something you actually want, it’s at your convenience, or it’s absolutely necessary. We all want the newest version of whatever, and we all want the top-of-the-line products in our house, but purchasing blindly, just because it’s financially appealing, is not the right move.

Microsoft wants to tell you that your old computer is out of fashion. Well, Microsoft doesn’t understand that we aren’t all crazy about the latest updates and computers—we just need them to be working properly. Sure, the $100 is a nice thank you for your loyalty and that should be commended. But why not just offer that $100 into improving what is already working instead of forcing the user to buy a new $599 to $2,299 computer?

The new Windows 8.1 might be newer and shinier, but after 13 years of using the same operating system, you can’t just lure consumers out with a little bribe.

It’s Time to be More Concerned About Our Eyes and Less About Our iPhone

If you are a hardworking technophile like me, you may want to start addressing the fact that you are working too hard, relying on too much on technology, and staring at a computer/iPhone/Kindle screen for too long.

Odds are, you’re not reading this in a paper form, but on a screen—even though this is your break from work. News, entertainment and correspondence all happen on a computer screen; there is no avoiding it today.

But just because the zeitgeist has changed, does that mean our strained eyes are doomed as well?

Computer vision syndrome has proven my mother’s worries to be accurate: I might not go blind from watching a Mad Men marathon on my iPad but exhausting my vision and causing it to labour intensively over hours of work is not healthy.

Vision loss is often associated with aging and computers screens are not linked to any permanent damages to the eyes, but Canadians are still burdened by the financial weight of vision correction. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, $2.7 billion is spent annually on vision care. There are laser-eye surgeries and “retina” displays, but I believe it won’t technology that saves our vision, but rather our own habits in areas of work, play, and sleep.

To avoid straining your eyes and exhausting your ability to work, I introduce “the three B’s” to aid you in your seeing endeavours and to keep your eyes in “peek” condition.


It’s been proven that those staring at a computer screen for a period of time will have longer intervals between blinks. This effect will cause the eyes to feel dry and irritated. Blinking lubricates the eyes, and that is a good thing regardless of what level you’ve achieved in your mobile game or how many typos you’ve found in your Word document.

Blink regularly while working; you may need to consciously remind yourself to do so.


It’s a balancing act; the amount of light in a room versus the brightness of your computer screen versus the extraneous light and glare seeping in through your office, home, or coffee shop window. Having a balanced lighting can reduce the strain and fatigue your eyes feel.

You want your computer screen’s brightness to match the brightness of the room. So move away from the window when you are on your computer. Extraneous light and glare will force your eyes to work harder than they have to, thus exhausting them faster. Consider drawing the curtains at various point of the day or purchasing an anti-glare screen filter.


Taking breaks are important because the human eye is not built to stare at a screen for many hours. Experts recommend that workers take a 20 second break every 20 minutes by staring at something 20 feet away; this is known as the 20/20/20 rule. Find an object in the distance, maybe a tree or a painting and just check up on it occasionally. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find inspiration in it.

While you are taking these breaks, consider your comfort and make sure your working environment is as ergonomically pleasing as it can be. A few things to note are the monitor’s height and distance. The best height is five to nine inches below your horizontal line of sight. Or in another word, you should be able to look right over the screen. In regards to the distance, if you can sit back in your chair and touch the screen, you are sitting too close.

No matter how hard working you are, neglecting your health is never okay; after all, an office job can be lethal. Sometimes you’ll just need to rest, and if your friends and family can’t convince you to take a break once in awhile and get away from the screen—well, hopefully your eyes can.